Georgia PSC approves coal shutdowns, extra solar development

The Georgia Public Service Commission on July 11 approved by a 4-1 vote a stipulated agreement to resolve all issues in the Georgia Power 2013 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) and an application for certification of its Demand Side Management (DSM) plan.

The commission also approved by a vote of 3-2 a motion proposed by Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, Jr., that Georgia Power include in this IRP an additional 525 MW of new solar generation. The amended motion requires that 260 MW be brought online by 2015 and 265 MW by 2016. The new solar will consist of 100 MW of distributed generation and 425 MW of utility scale solar and will require competitive bidding.

“I believe this is the right step to take if we are to encourage the development and use of solar energy,” said McDonald in a July 11 statement. “This motion is not a mandate, but an expansion of Georgia Power’s current solar portfolio.”

The commission modified the solar motion by adopting two proposals by Commissioner Stan Wise that require the company to use an independent evaluator in the bid process and prohibit accepting any bids that exceed Georgia Power’s levelized avoided cost for the term of purchase power agreements.

Commissioner Doug Everett said he would not accept any plan that put upward pressure on rates. With assurance from both commission staff and Georgia Power that this plan will not increase electric rates because all bids must be below Georgia Power’s avoided cost, he voted to adopt this stipulation.

Commissioner Tim Echols, who supported the solar motion, said: “Commissioner McDonald’s motion adding 525 megawatts of solar to our 20-year energy plan is a hedge against more coal regulation and natural gas price volatility. When the President finishes his war on coal, he’ll come after fracking, and gas prices will surely go up. We have to be ready.”

The commission adopted two other motions by Echols. One allows Georgia Power to develop its proposed small wind demonstration pilot project that compares several different wind turbine technologies. The other requires Georgia Power to file within 30 days its project plan for a low-income DSM program for the direct installation of eligible energy efficiency measures for about 25,000 eligible homes.

Other provisions of the stipulated agreement include:

  • Closing and decertifying 16 coal-fired generation units;
  • Converting two coal-fired units to burn natural gas;
  • Bringing 13 coal-fired units into compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS);
  • Changing the close date of Plant Branch Unit 1 from Dec. 31, 2013, to coincide with the closing of Plant Branch Units 3 and 4, as approved in this agreement. These are all coal-fired units, with the GenerationHub database showing Unit 1 at 266 MW (net summer), Unit 3 at 509 MW (net summer) and Unit 4 at 507 MW (net summer).

Environmental groups applaud move to more solar 

The Sierra Club and GreenLaw on July 11 commended the commission for its initiative, which they said will help stabilize customer electricity rates while creating jobs and accelerating solar development in Georgia over the next several years.

“Solar is the best bet against rising electric rates – the fuel will always be free and you’ll never have to spend millions on environmental controls,” said Colleen Kiernan, director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Georgia Power just filed for yet another rate increase to pay for obsolete, unnecessary coal plants, while Georgia’s Public Service Commission is providing true leadership and protecting consumers.”

Georgia is fifth in the nation for solar energy potential, yet is currently ranked 38th for the total number of solar power projects installed, the groups noted.

“Before the Commission proposed this new solar development, Georgia Power’s long-term energy plan had no program to add clean energy,” said Ashten Bailey with GreenLaw. “With this new initiative, we’re no longer at the back of the pack and can truly compete to be a clean energy leader in the Southeast.” 

Georgia Power currently has more generating capacity than is needed now or for the foreseeable future. As a result the Sierra Club, represented by GreenLaw, argued against new spending on coal units that are not needed to meet customer demand and will need new pollution control retrofits in order to meet health standards.

The new solar proposal provides another opportunity for Georgia Power to completely phase out its expensive and unnecessary coal-burning units at Plant McIntosh, the environmental groups said.

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.