Georgia has been hit hard by unscrupulous solar businesses, particularly in the residential space. Misinformation about solar has been spread to homeowners far and wide. There are even quite a few solar systems out there that don’t work properly due to poor installation practices. In the state ranked 7th in the nation for total solar installed as of Q1 2023, how can this be? What could be done to turn the tides? 

Following the guidance of their members, the Green Power EMC team set out to find a solution. Founded in 2001, Green Power EMC secures renewable energy resources on behalf of 38 of Georgia’s Electric Membership Corporations (EMCs) and the more than 4 million residents they serve. It is the largest operational green power program in the Southeastern United States. By listening to the needs and concerns of their membership based on their experiences with solar, they created the curriculum outline for the Solar 101 and 102 courses. The goal was to provide the information and tools needed to respond to the uptick of inquiries – and issues – regarding solar to frontline customer service staff as well as engineers and energy advisors. 

This led HeatSpring to create a new course bundle – the Solar Onboarding Series for Non-Solar Professionals. This course was born out of the acute need for accurate and timely information about rooftop solar for the EMC staff in Georgia. The digital version on HeatSpring has been broadened to be applicable to all markets and to any roles where a working knowledge of solar will be helpful.

Tune into this interview with Green Power EMC’s VP of Engineering, Nicholas Ham, to learn more about why they worked with HeatSpring to develop and deliver these courses, what they achieved, and how he sees the future of solar in Georgia. The transcript of the conversation can be found below.

Brit: We are here with Nicholas Ham, who is the VP of Engineering and Operations at Green Power EMC located in Georgia. Nic, can you please tell us a little bit about your role at Green Power EMC and what does Green Power EMC do here in Georgia?

Nicholas: So Green Power EMC supports renewable needs for 38 electric membership corporations in the state of Georgia. And for those of you that may not be familiar with EMCs, they were founded as part of the REA (Rural Electrification) Administration back in 1935 and FDR’s New Deal. Their mission or goal is to support electrification of rural parts of the country and specifically Green Power’s located in Georgia, so rural parts  of the state of Georgia.

Brit: And so that’s what Green Power EMC does. And as that VP of Engineering and Operations, how do you support all the member co-ops? 

Nicholas: We support their renewable needs, mostly through procurement of large scale PPAs. We also have some community scale solar sites, a portfolio around 10 megawatts that we operate and manage on their behalf, as well as, be subject matter experts on emerging trends within the solar space or renewable space. 

Rooftop solar is a big topic right now in the state of Georgia, and that was really why we wanted to have this [Solar 101 and 102] class, to provide an educational platform, not only the basics of rooftop solar, but market conditions within the state and to really hone in on what our members are to their residential consumers or residential members, which are trusted energy advisors.

Brit: Nice. And so what made you pursue having this Solar Basics Training for these member organizations? You kind of touched on it, but what are those opportunities or challenges you’re seeing specifically here in Georgia? 

Nicholas: Yeah, I think Georgia, based on our previous conversations, may be a little different than the rest of the country, but we were hearing story after story of residential consumers being solicited by rooftop solar organizations and really – for lack of a better term – being taken advantage of in certain situations.

Those rooftop installers sell a project, leave the state, and then the residential consumer is now calling their local EMC saying, “hey, look, I have a bill. I’m not supposed to have a bill. What’s going on? The output of my system is not what I thought it was going to be.” And so really to educate them to be able to handle those discussions, but more importantly, to be on the forefront and to be front facing with their membership so that they can really advise on rooftop systems.

We’re for rooftop in Georgia. Certainly not against that, but it makes sense in certain situations, and in certain situations, it doesn’t. So just educating our members to be able to guide – as that trusted energy advisor – the residential consumers into following up on good decisions.

Brit: You’re touching on something that I think is sometimes more unique to Georgia. There’s plenty of states where there’s different net metering policies, but Georgia tends to have really unique net metering. And so all these out of town sales folks and companies may not be familiar. They might think that there’s true net metering or even monthly net metering. But in Georgia, instantaneous net metering is more common, and that certainly affects the system’s financials. 

So when you guys designed this curriculum, because you guys really put your heads together at Green Power EMC and mapped out what you thought was best for your member co-ops, can you walk me through a little bit of what your process was with that and what needs were y’all trying to kind of meet by this curriculum? 

Nicholas: Well, we tried to find the common thread and the stories that we were hearing from our members and really build, certainly the 101 course, around that thread. 

And so, it’s what’s going on currently in the solar industry at large around the nation and then in Georgia, whether that’s large scale commercial or residential space. And then drill down into what’s happening in the residential space, specifically rooftop nationwide, and then into Georgia.

And start trying to think about what the future may look like if Georgia has similar penetration levels of other states that have more mature rooftop markets. And then how our EMCs can advise and help their members navigate the news and navigate any proposals that they may receive.

Part of that would be going through, this is a typical design. This is what would be best practice from a design standpoint. This is best practice from an installation standpoint. This is a best practice from an inspection standpoint, all the way up from when your residential member signs a contract to the EMC goes out to change out the meter base to a bidirectional meter and everything in between – really walking through that whole process to flesh out and discuss best practices. 

Brit: Nice. Yeah, I definitely think the courses cover a little bit about a lot of stuff. Certainly touches on like almost all those things, everything through the process. But just enough so folks can have a little bit more command of the process and that foundational knowledge.

Nicholas: As a 101 course, certainly, it’s meant to be wide ranging, as you’re saying to cast a wide net. And then we also developed a 102 course to drill down a little deeper on system design specs and additional safety measures and additional testing procedures to help drill down a little deeper to not necessarily frontline member-facing EMC associates, but into more of the engineering energy advisor space.

Brit: I was even curious how many folks went through the trainings across, across the state? 

Nicholas: I don’t have the exact number in front of me, but it was north of 320 EMC associates registered for the seven classes across the board. 

As far as the feedback that was received from the participants was, I’d say, very positive.

Brit: Yeah, I have to commend you for putting it all together. You guys saw this need, this huge need in Georgia. Honestly, I had no idea how dire the need was to have quality and true information about what’s true and what’s not. What’s a myth, what’s real in the industry here in Georgia. So definitely commending you and Shawn and the Green Power EMC team for just putting your resources and energy into making it happen and developing the curriculum outline and everything. It’s really good work and I’m happy to see it happen here in Georgia. 

Last question for you, Nic, is where do you see the solar industry heading here in Georgia? And what part will all of the different electric membership co-ops play in that future? 

Nicholas: Currently the EMCs in the state of Georgia, and so that’s 38 that we represent, and there’s 930 plus EMCs around the country. The EMCs in Georgia have 25% of the nationwide solar capacity for co-ops. 

EMCs in Georgia specifically have been on the forefront of the solar industry from a large utility scale standpoint. I think what we’re going to see in the future is going to be more solar in the commercial space as well as the residential space.

Once again, that was really the driver for this course. How do we prepare for that coming wave so that the EMCs can do what they have always done, which is really serve their members more than just utility? It’s all about member service. Going back to when EMCs were first established and electrification was happening in rural parts of the state, right?

EMCs would hold cooking courses on this is how you use your electric range. Even up until recently, some of our members in the state still had appliance showrooms at their co-ops. 

So really just being that one-stop-shop – that trusted advisor for all things electric – I think is where our members have been and where we’re trying to stay and head as the energy transition occurs around our country and our state. 

Brit: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for sharing with me, Nic. And thanks for putting the course together. 

Nicholas: Yeah. Thank you for your help.