Over the weekend, I posted an article about the exploding solar market in Louisiana. This week I came across a piece about the opposite situation in nearby Alabama, a state that is getting left behind as the rest of the country moves into solar in a big way.
Bordering the state of Alabama is Tennessee. Last year, Tennessee jumped five spots in overall solar production nationwide from 20th in 2010 to 15th in 2011. The state’s growing solar energy industry now employs 6,500 Tennessee residents, primarily in small companies with less than 100 employees. Some larger companies, like Sharp Electronics and Silicon Ranch, operate in Tennessee as well.
Louisiana is also booming, with over 200 licensed solar installers now operating in the region and a state incentive program that has proven so popular, it has exceeded its originally payout 18 times over. Although the state is now looking to pull back on its solar payouts, the last four years have shown tremendous growth for the industry and clean technology.
Georgia, another close neighbor, has a renewable energy goal of generating 50 megawatts of solar energy by 2015. That state’s first major commercial solar plant came online just recently with more planned to follow in quick succession. Georgia Power also pays customers 17 cents per kilowatt hour for the solar energy they feed into the grid.
But in Alabama, only 27 households are currently producing solar energy and selling the excess back to the grid, managed by Alabama Power, which only pays 3 to 5 cents per kilowatt for solar power. Hallie Bradley, Alabama Power spokeswoman counters criticism of the low price by saying the the utility pays out the same price that it costs them to generate power. Other costs on a consumer’s electric bill are due to distribution fees.
Historically, interest in renewable energy is low in Alabama, a state that is consistently ranked in the lowest five states by income that has also enjoyed cheap electricity rates over the years. Solar in comparison was seen as too expensive to be viable on a larger scale.
But now, with a 30 percent federal tax credit at play and lower installation costs than ever before, solar is reaching grid parity even in Alabama.
Still the state has yet to enact any sort of local incentive, which, as was proven in Louisiana and other states, is key to widespread adaption of the technology.