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Georgia Power Files for Largest Solar Expansion in State History
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September 28, 2012

Georgia Power Files for Largest Solar Expansion in State History

By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor

Atlanta-based Georgia Power made a move this week “to voluntarily develop the largest solar portfolio of any investor-owned utility.” The utility, which serves 2.4 million ratepayers throughout the state, filed a new solar initiative with the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC), under which it would acquire 210 megawatts of additional solar capacity through long-term contracts over a three-year period.

Because the Public Service Commission has already given the go-ahead for the 210 megawatts in added capacity and set customer rates, Georgia Power officials hope for a quick approval.

"We believe the Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative (GPASI) will encourage new opportunities for solar development in our state and catapult us to the forefront of this clean, safe energy technology," said Georgia Power president and CEO Paul Bowers. "This initiative builds upon our record of maintaining not only one of the nation's safest and most reliable electric systems at rates below the national average, but one of the most innovative, as well. We will continue to build a diverse generation portfolio that utilizes the most cost-effective and advanced technologies to benefit our customers."

“This is a good first step toward increasing Georgia’s solar infrastructure,” said Jessica Moore, the executive director of the Georgia Solar Energy Association.

To meet the 210 MW target, Georgia Power would purchase 60 MW annually for three years with projects ranging in size from one to 20 megawatts, which applies to very large commercial or utility-scale projects. The other 10 MW would be met through a distributed-scale program for residential and commercial projects, defined by the utility as Small Scale (less than 100 kW) and Medium Scale (100-1,000 kW).

RFPs for the Utility Scale program will be conducted in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and will require commercial operation dates in 2015, 2016 and 2017.Georgia Power could begin signing solar contracts under the Distributed Scale program as early as first quarter of 2013.

Developed in cooperation with the Georgia PSC, the GPASI will complement the company's existing solar resources, which include leading-edge research and demonstration projects and a 50 MW Large Scale Solar program already in place.

Julia Hamm, president and CEO of the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), a not-for-profit focused on helping utilities make smart solar decisions, issued the following statement in response to the proposed initiative: “Utilities across the country continue to recognize the important role solar energy should play in a cleaner and more diversified energy portfolio. Georgia Power’s proposal … is a testament to that fact. Further, SEPA applauds Georgia Power’s proposal to take this action without a mandate to do so, but rather because it recognizes the value additional solar energy will provide to the utility.”

Hamm added, “To meet the 210 megawatts, Georgia Power plans to acquire up to 70 MW per year over the life of the program. By comparison, in 2011, nationwide only 15 utilities reported integrating more than 20 MW each to their grid, and eight reported more than 50 MW each. This fact demonstrates the significance of the proposed Georgia Power program.”

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the trade group, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), was not quite so enthusiastic. “We are encouraged by the news that Georgia Power has taken a first step towards realizing Georgia’s vast potential for solar energy that to date has gone largely untapped…However, more needs to be done for Georgia to become a true leader in solar and to build a sustainable solar market in the state.”

He cautioned, “Important policy decisions lie ahead. It’s vital that the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) allow both centralized and distributed solar generation to fulfill a larger role in the state’s energy mix. The program announced today offers a very limited program for homeowners and business owners to install solar on their own roofs.  Distributed solar must be allowed to grow at a rate higher than 10 MW per year in order to create a truly sustainable market and jobs across the state. In addition, the state needs competitive rules and standards for connecting to the grid, as well as policies to allow for other solar providers to participate in the market.”

The solar association has lobbied for a different scheme, under which property owners would rent their roofs to solar companies, which would then sell the power back to them and market any excess to Georgia Power or neighboring homes. Georgia Power opposes changing the law to allow that.

According to the SEIA, the solar industry more than doubled the amount of solar installed in the United States during the second quarter of this year, compared to 2011, and growth is expected to continue in the second half of 2012. The top 10 states for total solar electric capacity are (in descending order): California, New Jersey, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York and North Carolina.  Georgia is not ranked in the top 25 states in terms of installed capacity.

In related news, The Augusta (News - Alert) Chronicle reports that, last week, a start-up solar company filed papers with the PSC to become a utility and compete with Georgia Power to sell to retail customers statewide. It wants to build about ten times as much solar capacity as Georgia Power has now proposed.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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