Solar energy sale, aisle 4

Sevananda hosting first program in state to sell green energy

Sevananda, the community-owned
all natural grocery store in Little Five Points, is launching the first true renewable energy program in the state.

The store will install solar panels on its roof and sell blocks of green energy — power generated from renewable sources like wind and solar panels — to customers that sign up for the program.

Sevananda's solar panel system will generate only 2.4 kilowatts per hour, which isn't enough to even qualify as a drop in the bucket of the electricity generated from fossil fuels and nuclear generation.

If there is 10 hours of sunlight, then Sevananda's solar system will produce 24 kilowatt hours of energy. The average home in Georgia consumes 1,000 kilowatt hours of energy a day.

Still, organizers hope the program will develop die-hard fans and spur a grassroots, green energy movement across the state.

"After 20 years of unhealthy air in the metro Atlanta area, it should be apparent that Georgia Power and its minions at the state Environmental Protection Division are not going to find the solution to our air pollution problems," says Robert Ukeiley, an environmental lawyer who first approached Sevananda with the idea for the green energy program. "The solution is going to have to come from the people of Atlanta and this program represents one small step in that direction."

Starting July 18, customers can sign up to buy $4 blocks of energy each month. That block represents 10 kilowatt hours of energy.

Technically, that won't mean that $4 worth of energy produced by Sevananda's solar panels will be delivered to the customer's home. The reason for that is once electricity is sent to the state's energy grid, the powered-up photons don't know and don't care if they're solar, nuclear or from a nasty coal-burning power plant.

But that $4 per month would mean that green energy customers would be that much less reliant on dirty energy. The money would go toward paying off Sevananda's solar panels, not to Georgia Power.

"To draw a picture of it, Sevananda is producing this power and it's reducing the amount of electricity produced by burning landfill gases or coal with good clean solar energy that's renewable, that doesn't destroy our environment or pollute the environment in any way," says Sevananda General Manager Steve Cooke.

To recoup its $20,000 investment in the solar panel system, Sevananda has to sell 35 green energy blocks. Cooke says he's already sold about one-third of them. If he sells twice that, he'll be able to double the solar panel system and generate up to 5.6 kilowatts per hour.

And if the program is successful, Ukeiley will have a good model he can point to when he tries to convince others — churches, schools and municipal power generators — to join the revolution against status quo power generation.

"This is about redistributing production to less corporate institutions," Ukeiley says. "It really could change things, especially in rural communities where energy is more expensive."

Keith Freeman is owner of Remote Technologies, the company that will install the solar panels on Sevananda's roof. So far he's installed solar panel systems on two homes, one on Tybee Island and one in Atlanta. Again, not even a drop in the bucket. But he's talking with Georgia's municipal electric generators about outfitting their green energy programs with solar panel systems. Their current green energy comes from burning landfill gases, which to many environmentalists is far from clean. Roughly 50 percent of landfill gas is methane. The rest is a mix of who-knows-what, maybe battery acid, maybe something worse. The result is the emission of dioxin, one of the nastiest and most dangerous chemicals out there.

The municipal electric generators now produce all of their so-called green energy through burning landfill gases, but are moving toward solar energy. (Georgia Power is also planning to launch a green energy program that'll rely solely on landfill gases.)

If Freeman can convince the municipal electric generators to go solar, and if Ukeiley can prove that Sevananda's solar gamble is successful, green energy just might stand a chance in Georgia.

"Every one says [the amount of energy produced by solar panels] is nothing, but if you're talking hundreds of people across the state, then you are making an impact, and your environmental benefits are substantial," Freeman says.