Georgia industry leaders inked the deal with the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association creating Georgia SIEA. The new organization will be a sister to the Georgia Solar Energy Association, the education and advocacy arm to the new lobbying organization.
About 200 people attending the fourth-annual Solar Summit witnessed the agreement. They represent 88 companies from across the state.
The new emphasis on lobbying is aimed at shaping state policy and legislation to encourage more use of solar power as neighboring states have done.
"I'm tired of hearing how much North Carolina is doing. I'm tired of hearing how much Florida is doing. We have just as much sun as Florida and more sun than North Carolina,” said Anthony Coker, chairman of the Georgia Solar Energy Association.
North Carolina has 108 megawatts of photovoltaic panels installed and ready to generate power when the sun strikes them. As of the latest project Thursday, Georgia has just 18 megawatts.
"You have a small market in Georgia because your policy is a little behind what you are seeing in other states,” said Rhone Resch, president of Solar Energy Industries Association.
The industry would like to require Georgia Power to pay retail rates for electricity it buys from consumers whose solar panels generate more power than they need. It also wants a law change to allow corporations to install solar panels on the roofs of other companies and sell the power to the building owners. Current law limits the sale of electricity to regulated utilities.
This year’s election of two seats on the Public Service Commission and the entire General Assembly presents the industry an opportunity to sway policy. But its trade organizations won’t endorse any candidates or be a major campaign contributor this year.
In addition to hoping to change policy, the industry is feeling the sting of conservative attacks on President Barack Obama for his assistance to a solar-panel maker that went broke after receiving federal loans. Resch said that company, Solyndra, isn’t representative of the industry and it’s not fair to tar all solar manufacturers with the same brush.
"We have gone from an industry enjoying 95 percent public support to being one of the industries being attacked,” he said.