Clark's Grove community to use solar power

COVINGTON — The Clark's Grove community will soon be harvesting solar power to generate electricity and heat water, a project that proponents hope will inspire others to make use of the sun's energy.

Several property owners in the neighborhood, located off Clark Street, have received a $250,000 grant from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority for the project, which will also include The Center on Washington Street in downtown Covington.

A live/work space owned by Clay Newman, the University of Georgia Metropolitan Design Studio owned by Randy Vinson, the Clark's Grove Home Owner's Association, the Montessori School of Covington, and The Center, owned by Rob Fowler, will have solar panels installed on the roofs to generate electricity. In the case of the homeowner's association, it will power the pool pumps. The school, the UGA studio and The Center will also get solar thermal technology that will be used to heat water.

Each property owner is contributing a $12,000 match, a requirement of the grant. Vinson said Clark's Grove will be the first to use solar power in Covington, and the hope is that other residents and business owners will follow suit.

"If there are enough people doing this, we could actually shave some requirements from the city's purchase agreements so they're not having to buy at peak loads. It ultimately could be a saving to the city down the road if we can attract enough investment in solar power," Vinson said.

The city of Covington has agreed to buy excess power produced, another requirement of the grant.

"There will likely be some hours when their electric use is at a minimum, when their businesses are closed, holidays, etc., so their solar systems will produce more power than they need. This power will flow into the city's electric system," Utilities Director Bill Meecham said. "We will pay them for that power based upon what we would have paid a wholesale electric supplier, typically one arranged through MEAG (the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia). The payment will take the form of a credit on their bill against the amount of power they buy from the city."

"The city looks at this installation as an opportunity to learn more about solar generation, which in the future, as solar systems become more efficient, can become a significant factor in meeting customer's utility needs," Meecham added.

The Clark's Grove property owners are partnering with Hannah Solar in Atlanta for the project.

Hannah Solar CEO Pete Marte said each should expect to see significant savings on their power bills.

"I would assume each one of these clients would still have a power bill. It would just be greatly reduced," Marte said.

The typical cost for a residential installation is about $30,000, while some commercial and industrial clients pay as much as $1.5 million, Marte said. There are tax credits and grants available for individuals and businesses that want to use solar power. As much as 65 percent of the residential cost can be recouped through tax credits, he said.

"The payoff for residential customers takes about eight to 10 years. It's about three to five years for commercial," Marte said.

The Clark's Grove project is expected to get under way near the end of March.