Currently it is more profitable for businesses to go “green” by purchasing energy-efficient and alternative energy devices than it is for residents, says Shelley Rhoden, president of Alternative Energy Solutions.
“The reason for that is because there are MACR (Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery) tax benefits for businesses,” Rhoden said. “This year businesses have a 50 percent bonus depreciation, which means solar has a five-year depreciation period. The first year a business can take 50 percent and the remaining depreciation can be spread out over the next five years. In addition, businesses qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit, and they will see a reduction in their electric bill. We see more and more businesses investing in solar and solar thermal as a result of these incentives.”
Rhoden said there would be far more demand for alternative energy such as solar panels that produce electricity if the Mississippi Legislature would get with the program. Alternative energy tax incentives have been rejected by the Mississippi Legislature for five years in a row. The Legislature has also turned down net metering to allow people to install alternative energy and sell excess production back to the power company. In Rhoden’s opinion, the failure of those initiatives is due to a well-heeled utility lobby.
“Monopoly power companies have lobbied against this,” Rhoden said. “Forty-six other states in the U.S. allow net metering. Mississippi is one of the few that has not allowed it yet. Mississippi has an abundance of sunlight that can be converted to energy. New Jersey, in comparison, has a far less sunshine, but they out install us in solar. They have wonderful solar incentive programs that makes it affordable for their residents to embrace renewable energy, and that is what we need to do here.
“Our neighbors in Louisiana get the 30 percent federal tax credit, and they also get a 50 percent tax credit on the state level. Louisiana electric/utility companies will purchase the solar generated electricity that was produced in excess of what your home or business used. The Mississippi Public Service Commission and some legislators and lobbyists for Mississippi Power apparently don’t want that. We’re struggling now because of that. That is why other states have more solar power installed than Mississippi.”
Rhoden said a properly sized solar photovoltaic system could offset 50 to 70 percent of electric usage.
“The payback period for solar installation could be as short as five to 10 years if we had the rebates, incentives and net metering policies other states have,” Rhoden said. “So let your representatives know we want solar incentives that will make installing solar affordable for all residents in Mississippi. I want Mississippi to get the same tax advantages as other states. I know eventually Mississippi is going to come around and realize that tax credits and net metering are the responsible things to do, and they are going to pass legislation that will make it more affordable for both homeowners and businesses.”
Rhoden said alternative energy is considered more expensive than producing electricity from coal. But she doesn’t believe that coal in Mississippi is cheap when you factor in environmental and health impacts. She said there is no such thing as “clean coal;” it pollutes the environment.
“All coal is dirty,” Rhoden said. “It affects the climate by releasing carbon to the atmosphere. It causes global warming.”
Rhoden said Mississippi has supported solar manufacturing with providing $75 million in loan assistance to a Stion manufacturing plant in Hattiesburg that manufactures low-cost, thin-film solar panels.
“The state is also providing clean energy tax incentives and workforce training incentives for the project,” she said. “Local officials are providing tax and other financial incentives to assist with the project, as well.”
Rhoden said it would only make sense for the same Legislature that has passed legislation to support the solar plant to provide jobs would also support initiatives that would allow companies like Alternate Energy Solutions to hire more employees for installations that help the residents save money on their electric bills.
Doing the right thing for the environment, Rhoden said, can also be economical. An example is the City of Hattiesburg, which has purchased solar panels to aerate sewage lagoons.
“The City of Hattiesburg has taken a step towards reducing their energy costs by installing four of our solar power long-distance water circulators in their new north wastewater lagoon,” Rhoden said. “They are saving money, and I think are planning on incorporating more alternative energy in the future.”
Bert Kuyrkendall, director of engineering for the City of Hattiesburg, said the circulation equipment, known as Solar Bees, have really worked well.
“The Solar Bees are replacing a certain number of aerators that run off the grid,” Kuyrkendall said. “What time frame will it pay itself off? We look for seven to 10 year payback with alternative energy. What we have done so far is pretty small. It is a modest beginning. We have a big project coming up replacing the lagoon system with a mechanical treatment plant. We are looking at the solar options with that. That isn’t for sure yet.”
The city will look at the possibility of harvesting gas from the treatment process to fuel equipment, or using solar arrays. Kuykendall said that anaerobic treatment systems can provide gas to power generation systems, but that industrial waste such as that from a chicken processing plant have a stronger effluent that is more efficient at generating gas.