“I lost my business because of the City of Forsyth,” said Scott Tyree, who bought Castleberry Drug in 2012, installed solar panels on the building in early 2016 and sold the business in June 2018 after his vision for solar power was literally locked down by city government.
Noting that there is lots of sunshine in Georgia and seeing the good experience Jep Castleberry, the former owner of the pharmacy who continues to be its lead pharmacist, had with a solar system on his home, Tyree decided to invest in solar panels on the North Lee Street building just off the square. Tyree had been pleased with the solar system he installed at his home near San Diego, and he found the local government and energy provider there very helpful and cooperative as he converted to solar.
That was not the case in Forsyth. Tyree hired a reputable contractor that had installed solar systems throughout Georgia to put solar panels on top of the 6,000 sq. ft. building and invested $42,000 in doing so. Tyree said the system would have paid for itself in a year, but Forsyth never let him turn it on. It still sits there unused as the years tick away on its 30-year warranty.
Suncatcher of Atlanta sent its representative to get the proper permits from the city before work started. The city issued him an electrical permit. However, City Manager Janice Hall later said that the city had changed its rules and the electrical permit was not adequate for a solar system. Then she said the city was not approving any permits for solar panels.
Tyree, Suncatcher and Castleberry, who still owns the building, all appealed to the city in light of the substantial financial investment. Tyree said a representative of the city’s utilities replied that if he turned on the solar system the city would raise his rates so high that it would cost him more than if he did not have the solar panels. The man, whose name Tyree didn’t know, said Forsyth already meets its requirements for solar power and will not accept any more.
Tyree said his power bill at the city was $1,500 every month and even higher in the summer. Besides needing to keep the building comfortable for employees and customers, a pharmacy must provide refrigeration for certain drugs and depends on a steady power source. Tyree said the solar system he installed was designed to reduce his power bill to nothing.
Tyree said a citizen was telling him at an eatery on the square how happy she was about his installing the solar system. Hall was sitting nearby and called him shortly afterward to tell him his permit was no good, which was his first notice that there was a problem. The owner of Suncatcher came to Forsyth city hall three times to explain the quality of the system installed and to work with the city’s electrical department on activating it.
“They shut him down, basically told him he was wasting his breath,” said Tyree. “They just said, ‘Sorry you spent so much money.’”
With the outlay of the capital for the solar system and the continued draw of the $1,500/month electric bill as well as normal expenses of the business, the man who had been so excited about becoming a part of the Forsyth community and expanding his interests there gave it up and found a buyer to get him out of Forsyth.
Although Tyree has recently lived in California, he grew up in lower Alabama and was excited to be involved in a small Southern town. As a Forsyth businessman he put up banners at the high school softball and football fields, donated gifts for numerous fundraisers, helped with fundraisers for Save A Pet and other local nonprofits and even participated in Save A Pet’s Womanless Wedding fundraiser. (“I’ll never live that one down,” he said.) He came back to visit some of his Forsyth employees and friends in August.
“I was going to be the first green pharmacy in Georgia; we were able to deliver as far as Macon, and we were going to market it that way,” said Tyree. “It would have been great PR for the city.”
Hall told Tyree she took it to city council and council voted to reaffirm that it would not issue any permits for solar power. He said that would have been sometime between June and October 2015. He remembered that the mayor, which would have been John Howard at that time, supported denying the permit.
“Forsyth is not a business-friendly city. However, Monroe County is fantastic,” said Tyree. “It’s really surprising.”
He said he installed a solar system at his home in California a few years ago when the house needed a new roof. The local power provider was very supportive. He said the solar panels are attractive and do not detract from the look of the house. He pays the company $15-18/month in taxes, but does not pay for consuming any energy. The system hasn’t required any maintenance.
“I’ve licked my wounds. I enjoyed my time in Forsyth. It’s a beautiful city with great people,” said Tyree. “It just has a crappy city council.”