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Posted: February 12, 2010 12:01 a.m.

Solar power to come to Covington

Clark’s Grove, The Center get $250,000 grant

Solar power is coming to Covington, as property owners in Clark’s Grove were awarded a $250,000 grant this week to install solar panels on their commercial buildings.
The solar installation project is a joint venture between the Clark’s Grove owners and the private company Hannah Solar. In addition to the $250,000 grant, from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, each owner had to provide some matching funds, so the total solar investment will be around $340,000. About 88 percent of the money will toward equipment and the rest will pay for installation.
Solar photovoltaic panels will be installed on five buildings: the Clark’s Grove homeowners association building, the retail building containing the UGA Metropolitan Design Studio and Bella Salon, the Clay Newman retail building on Raphael St., the Montessori of Covington School and The Center for Community Preservation and Planning, located outside of Clark’s Grove on Clark Street.
In addition, The Center will receive a solar thermal water heater from the company Apricus Solar Water Heating.
Hannah Solar CEO Pete Marne said his company will install about 175 panels in all, about 35 on each building, which will produce a total of 43 kilowatts of electricity. Marne said the panels will replace about 15 to 20 percent of the traditional electricity usage by those buildings.
Planning Director Randy Vinson is one of the designers of Clark’s Grove. He said the introduction of renewable energy is a natural fit for the neighborhood, which was named an EarthCraft Community by the Southface Energy Institute. The 2003 pilot program promoted sustainable and energy efficient communities, and Southface felt Clark’s Grove emphasized these qualities.

Atlanta-based Hannah Solar helped Clark’s Grove to form and submit the grant application at no cost and will install the panels and solar water heater. The benefit for them is to increase awareness of solar power technology, which will hopefully lead to more future customers.

“By making solar installations more visible, we’ll make more of an impact and get people to think and talk about it,” Marne said.

Marne said solar power has been slow to take off in Georgia, despite the fact the state has fairly consistent sunshine. The start-up costs of solar energy are high, but Marne said stimulus money is helping spur development.

In addition to reducing the use of coal and other fossil fuels, renewable energy also reduces water consumption, which Marne said is remarkably high for the production of electricity.

“The amount of water it takes to generate one kilowatt of electricity is huge. We have a great utility and corporate partner in Georgia Power, but they bury the fact we use a lot of energy and waste a lot of energy because it’s cheap to produce. But water is the resource we don’t have a lot of, and it takes about 27 gallons of water for every kilowatt-hour of electricity,” Marne said.

Another benefit of the project is that the solar panels are mainly produced by Suniva, a Georgia company.

There will be several educational components attached to the solar grant. Vinson said owners in Clark’s Grove will monitor electricity production to provide data for studies and will set up a Web site to educate residents. Because each building is oriented differently, data collectors will be able to determine which orientation of the solar panels is the most effective at capturing solar energy.

The Montessori school will incorporate solar power studies into their science classes, examining, for example, how the sun’s rays are converted into electricity.

The Center was included because it is a commonly used public resource, so that building will include resources to educate the general public.

Although solar power is still in its infant stage in Georgia, Marne said demand is increasing. He said when Georgia Power first started offering solar power to residents, it took awhile for people to use up all 500 kilowatts of power. Once that was used up, they decided to offer an additional one megawatt – that was snapped up in one week.

“That’s a $5 million investment in energy that was spoken for in a week. We have clients in the waiting list about 5 megawatts deep. People are willing and able to using some stimulus dollars, tax credits and grants. They want to build solar and essentially become small generating facilities,” Marne said. “Solar power truly is the democratization out of power.”

Power companies are hesitant to promote renewable power because they would lose their control over the market. The battle will be an interesting determining factor.

Vinson said the next step will be to set up an transfer agreement with The City of Covington to allow the solar energy to be adopted into the city’s electrical grid.

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