Georgia Power pursues solar, wind and biomass additions

Georgia Power is working along a number of avenues to add to its renewable energy portfolio, including through two solar energy programs.

That was among the points that Georgia Power witnesses covered in June 7 rebuttal testimony filed with the Georgia Public Service Commission related to the utility’s January integrated resource plan (RP) filing. Georgia Power is a unit of Southern Co. (NYSE: SO).

The Georgia Power witnesses filing joint rebuttal testimony were: Kyle Leach, Director of Resource Policy and Planning for Georgia Power; Garey Rozier, Manager of Resource Planning for Southern Co. Services; and Larry Legg, Manager of Market Planning for Georgia Power. 

The company has implemented two new solar programs since the last IRP, they wrote; the Large Scale Solar (LSS) program and the Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative (ASI). In addition, in 2011 the company procured energy from 1 MW of solar capacity through a request for proposals (RFP) to supply the Green Energy Program.

In April of this year, Piedmont Green Power, a 53 MW resource providing energy from biomass capacity through the company’s proxy Qualifying Facility (QF) program, achieved commercial operation and Georgia Power announced an agreement with EDP Renewables North America to purchase cost-effective energy from 250 MW of wind capacity. The company also continues to evaluate the economics of converting Plant Mitchell Unit 3 from coal to 100% biomass. If the conversion proves economic for customers, Plant Mitchell would become one of the largest biomass units in the country.

In June 2011, the Georgia commission requested that Georgia Power and PSC staff develop options for expanding large-scale solar projects. In response, the company developed the 2015 LSS program. Under the LSS program, the company contracted to purchase energy from a total of 50 MW of solar capacity. These purchases will add to the generation procured through the 2015 RFP. The company entered into PPAs for terms of 20 years for individual solar projects in Georgia that were greater than 1 MW, but less than or equal to 30 MW in size. The projects were selected through a first-come, first-served Notice of Intent process conducted by staff. The company subsequently negotiated, executed and received approval for all 50 MW of contracts.

Approved by the commission in November 2012, the ASI is an innovative solar energy purchase program that will contract to purchase energy from 210 MW of solar capacity during the next three years. ASI was primarily designed with the goal in mind to spur economic growth within the solar community in Georgia while offering pricing that encourages more renewable development and avoids any upward rate pressure and reliability impacts to Georgia Power customers. With this goal in mind, Georgia Power designed two avenues to continue to develop solar in Georgia: offer existing Georgia Power customers additional options to sell distributed solar generation back to Georgia Power through small and medium scale solar purchase programs; and offer solar developers the opportunity to bring large photovoltaic (PV) solar arrays to market through bidding into a utility-scale RFP.

In April, the company executed two agreements with EDP that will add wind energy to the company’s diverse energy portfolio. Through these contracts, Georgia Power will purchase energy from 250 MW of cost-effective wind generation from EDP’s Blue Canyon wind farms in southwest Oklahoma.

Georgia Power rebuts contentions of Georgia Solar Utilities

The Georgia Power witnesses said the “plan” put forward by Georgia Solar Utilities (GaSU) should be rejected by the commission. GaSU has provided no substantive details or analysis for this commission to evaluate or consider, they added. “The only thing that is clear is that GaSU would prefer to bypass the competitive bidding process that is a staple of the Company’s procurement practices and simply be granted an exclusive right to develop solar but has provided no legal, policy or economic justification for such an extraordinary step,” they said. “In addition, GaSU’s testimony makes clear that they do not desire to serve customers and that there is nothing novel regarding their ability or approach to solar development that should afford them any special consideration by the Commission.” 

GaSU essentially has requested that the commission grant GaSU a monopoly on utility-scale solar generation in Georgia Power’s service territory and order Georgia Power to develop 500 MW of solar power implemented by GaSU under long-term and life-of-the-asset agreements with Georgia Power for resale to Georgia Power’s customers, the utility witnesses said.

As for the legality of the GaSU request, the three witnesses wrote: “While we are not attorneys, we have been advised by our attorneys that the Commission does not have such authority. The Commission has only the powers given to it by the Georgia General Assembly and there is no statute conferring upon the Commission the power to unilaterally require Georgia Power to enter into a contract with another company.”

There are a number of ways for GaSU to contract with Georgia Power to sell its solar power in a manner that will deliver any potential benefits to Georgia Power’s customers, they added. First, GaSU could submit a proposal under the RFP process when the company has a capacity need. If there is no capacity need, Georgia Power could buy the power under the “extraordinary advantage” exception and bypass the RFP process if the generation offered provides power on such favorable terms for the company’s customers that it warrants an exception to the RFP process.

In addition, the company has implemented the LSS and ASI programs to encourage the development of cost-effective, utility-scale solar generation in the state. Through these programs, solar developers can and have bid in their projects and the most competitive projects will be accepted by the company per the terms of the programs, the utility witnesses said. Finally, GaSU may enter into a standard energy only QF contract with the company at any time.

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.