“We’ve had to take advantage where we can,” he said.
The city has equipped what Hinson called “underutilized” facilities with solar, including a park operations building, a convention center, a water treatment plant, a solid-waste center and a transit operations facility.
Growth in the solar industry has continued in the state, despite action by the General Assembly that ended tax credits for a majority of projects. Senate Bill 372, passed in 2015, extended tax incentives only for projects substantially completed by Jan. 1, 2016.
Bob Kingery, co-founder of Southern Energy Management, said declining solar costs — down 40 percent over the last four years — have helped offset the loss of the expired tax credits.
There was a spike in residential solar applications in 2015, Hinson said, stemming from people hoping to take advantage of the tax credits before they expired. And while applications were down 2016, they were still higher than in 2014. As more people turn to solar, Hinson said it becomes a normalized option.
The ability for consumers to sell energy they generate from solar panels back to the grid is novel and presents technical challenges, Kingery said.
“There’s sort of an American value in this concept of energy independence,” he said.
While environmental impacts and an influx of job creation in the solar sector are important factors to consider, Kingery said the decreasing cost of energy is ultimately the largest motivator driving residential and commercial solar.
Solar has been one of the fastest growing energy sectors in recent years nationwide, he said.
“People are looking at the economics and saying ‘this really makes good sense, I want to do this,’” Kingery said.
In recent years, solar has garnered bipartisan support, when it once didn’t, he said.
“This is not fringe any longer.”