Georgia Solar Utilities pushes for 500 MW of new solar projects

Georgia Solar Utilities said May 24 that it is asking the Georgia Public Service Commission to allow development of new solar facilities near the sites of coal-fired power plants that Georgia Power plans to shut.

The Georgia PSC and its staff on May 21 and 22 heard testimony from Georgia Solar Utilities and other parties on the utility’s 20-year integrated resource plan (IRP), filed in January.

“We asked the Commissioners to deploy solar energy farms to rural counties that are scheduled to lose their coal- and oil-fired power plants,” said Robert Green, CEO of Georgia Solar Utilities.

In the IRP plan, the utility provided no new solar resources for Georgia ratepayers. Tom Fanning, CEO of parent Southern Co. (NYSE: SO), said at a recent Atlanta Press Club appearance that “renewables are going to remain a niche for some time,” Georgia Solar Utilities noted.

In its written testimony to the PSC, Georgia Solar Utilities requested 500 MW of solar be deployed to areas that are being economically-impacted by coal-plant closures. During the public phase of the IRP proceedings, several citizens and representatives from areas affected by coal plant closures provided public comment on this solar plan.

During his testimony, Green said: “We have a unique window of opportunity to use historically-low interest rates in the bond market to install solar energy farms that will provide long-term stability in energy rates.”

The Georgia PSC will hear final testimony from Georgia Power lawyers in June on the merits of any changes to the IRP, with a final vote to take place in July.

The Georgia Solar Utilities website says the company was formed to optimize the advantages of Georgia’s most abundant natural resource – the sun. The company plans to deploy distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) resources across the state.

Georgia PSC says it’s ready for solar now that solar costs have dropped

Earlier in May, the PSC did take what it said was the next step in solar development in Georgia by voting unanimously for Georgia Power to solicit bids for 60 MW of solar generation to go on line in 2015.

The commission approved Georgia Power’s 2013 Request for Proposals (RFP) for solar photovoltaic generation and the associated Pro Forma Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative Utility Scale Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) that was filed with the commission on April 25, as amended by commission staff.

As part of Georgia Power’s Advanced Solar Initiative (GPASI), the utility is seeking 60 MW of utility scale solar resources, located in Georgia, to begin service on Jan. 1, 2015. Utility scale projects are between 1 MW and 20 MW in size and the bid price is capped at $0.12 per kWh. Georgia Power will repeat the utility scale RFP process again in 2014 for an additional 60 MW of solar capacity with a commercial operation date of Jan. 1, 2016.

These utility scale projects for 120 MW in total are part of the GPASI program that will add a total of 210 MW of solar power to Georgia Power’s generation mix over the next few years. The balance will be 90 MW of distributed solar generation from small scale projects (each up to 100 kW) and medium scale projects (from 100 kW to 1 MW).

PSC Chairman Chuck Eaton said in a May 10 statement: “The price of solar has dropped dramatically over the last few years and because Georgia has been cost-driven, to prevent higher electric rates, rather than ideologically-driven, we are paying 75% less than ‘early adopter’ states.”

Georgia Power IRP calls for several coal- and oil-fired shutdowns, conversions

Within the IRP filed in January, in summary, the utility in part seeks commission approval of the:

  • Decertification of Branch Units 3-4, Yates Units 1-5 and McManus Units 1-2 effective by the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) compliance date of April 16, 2015, decertification of Kraft Units 1-4 one year past the MATS compliance date (by April 16, 2016), decertification of Boulevard Units 2-3 effective as of the date of the final order in this proceeding, and approval of expedited decertification of Bowen Unit 6 by April 16, 2013;
  • A switch to natural gas as the primary fuel for Yates Units 6-7 and Gaston Units 1-4; and
  • An amendment of the decertification date specified in the commission’s final order in a prior docket for Branch Unit 1 from Dec. 31, 2013, to coincide with the decertification of Branch Units 3-4.

Georgia Power has 149 company-owned generating units – 36 fossil steam, 71 hydroelectric, four nuclear, five combined cycles and 33 combustion turbines, excluding four CTs which are not permitted for normal summer operation – that provide about 17,400 MW of retail peak season generating capacity. Of the energy from company-owned units for the first 11 months of 2012, 42% was from coal, 18% from nuclear, 4% from hydroelectric and 36% from natural gas and oil.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.