7 ways Atlantans are saving the planet—or our little corner of it

Agnes Scott College leased its roof space for solar energy

Agnes Scott solar power
Arrays on top of the Mary Brown Bullock Science Center

Photograph courtesy of Agnes Scott College

Harnessing the sun’s limitless energy is great, except for one thing: It costs a lot up front. Georgia Power estimates the initial cost of building out a solar array is $5,000 to $7,000 per kilowatt, which can take more than a decade to pay off. The outlay is daunting enough that Decatur’s Agnes Scott College didn’t picture incorporating solar energy into its carbon neutrality plan for years. But in 2012, Georgia Power launched its Advanced Solar Initiative, in which the utility buys power from a specific solar array at a fixed rate for 20 years.

Two problems still remained: installation costs (which can climb to hundreds of thousands of dollars on large arrays), and the fact that Agnes Scott, as a nonprofit, couldn’t take advantage of federal tax credits intended to encourage private industry to go solar. The answer? Private investors, who, in exchange for paying for $541,526 worth of installations, would receive all of the money from Georgia Power’s purchase agreement and also use the tax credits and depreciation write-offs that Agnes Scott would have lost. Essentially, Agnes Scott is leasing out its roof space.

Today the school has enough solar paneling installed to produce 342,200 kilowatt hours a year of electricity, which powers the equivalent of 31 average-sized homes. Four of the installations feed electrons to Georgia Power’s grid. The fifth lies on the school’s Bradley Observatory and, unlike the others, is owned exclusively by the school and supplies some of the observatory’s power needs.

Solar superlative
Agnes Scott’s west parking deck served as a test site for the QuadPod, a solar racking system developed at Georgia Tech. Typical canopies like these are even more expensive than their rooftop counterparts, but the QuadPod’s design makes it easier (read: cheaper) to install than standard racking systems. One other benefit? Shade for cars!

This article originally appeared in our August 2016 issue.