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Georgia utility's solar cost analysis draws fire | News

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Georgia utility's solar cost analysis draws fire
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COVINGTON, Ga. -- Critics say a local utility is distorting the cost of solar power in a newsletter it's sending to its customers, suggesting the utility is trying to discourage customers from using solar power.

The utility is Snapping Shoals EMC, which has 85,000 members east and south of Atlanta. The source of the dispute is a newsletter that the EMC published a few weeks ago.

The newsletter posted information about a five kilowatt solar panel the EMC installed at its headquarters last year. The chart in the newsletter compares the monthly cost of its solar use against the cost of a typical electric bill.

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The chart shows that a customer using the EMC's electricity would have paid $145.46 in February 2015 -- and shows the solar panel user would pay substantially more -- $602.47 -- if the cost of installing the solar panel is included. Critics of the EMC say the chart doesn't tell the whole story.

"I believe it's inaccurate and misleading," said Billy Kirkland of Georgians for Solar Freedom. "We want to point out that once you do pay for your solar panels, you're essentially receiving free energy" which the chart overlooks.

But Snapping Shoals Chief Operating Officer Frank Askew says the EMC's chart merely documents the actual cost of its own solar panel over a one year period.

"We just showed the results for one year because that was the only data we had," Askew said.

He denies that the EMC is trying to dissuade its customers from going solar, but instead presented objective data. "We didn't try to influence that solar is a great thing you need to do, or otherwise," Askew said. The conclusion, he said, is "left for the interpreter" of the customer reading the data.

This year environmentalists joined with utilities, including EMCs, to pass a law making it easier for homeowners to finance and install solar panels. Officials of Snapping Shoals EMC say they are still as supportive of solar as they were then -- even if its newsletter emphasizes the costs.

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