The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) approved Georgia Power’s 20-year Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) Thursday by a 4-1 vote with additional solar requirements.
Georgia Power must bring an additional 525 megawatts of solar power on by 2016. Along with the utility’s existing Advanced Solar Initiative program, that will bring almost 800 megawatts of solar online in three years.
In the end, Commissioner Stand Wise was the lone “no” vote on the 20-year plan, which otherwise didn’t change much from the company’s original proposal.
Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald Jr. proposed the motion of the additional megawatts that by a 3-2 board vote became part of the utility’s IRP.
The amended motion requires that 260 megawatts to be brought online by 2015 and 265 MW by 2016. The new solar generation includes 100 MW of distributed generation and 425 MW of utility scale solar, which requires competitive building.
“I believe this is the right step to take if we are to encourage the development and use of solar energy,” McDonald said Thursday. “This motion is not a mandate, but an expansion of Georgia Power’s current solar portfolio.”
Commissioner Tim Echols supported the solar motion.
“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,” Echols said. “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 IRP is submitted by Georgia Power every three years, and it projects as far as 20 years what electricity Georgians will have to power their communities, homes, schools and businesses. One of the key aspects of the proposed plan would be that solar must not cause electricity rates to go up.
Robert Green, CEO of Georgia Solar Utilities (GaSU) and Greenavations Power, said the PSC decision was “very wise” and they “did the right thing.”
Green says the decision places solar projects back to the forefront.
“I think the main thing it does is tell the legislature what the PSC thinks about solar, and what they did was a really good start,” the solar advocate said. “The state can absorb a lot more solar than 500 megawatts, but you have to bring this on in stages.”
Green said current solar prices are ideal for market development.
“It’s better that we start right than starting fast,” he said.
Before the historic vote, state Rep. Rusty Kidd said a majority of PSC members were not content with the utility’s lack of solar planning for a state that has the fifth-best potential for solar resources but ranks 38th in actual installations.
When Georgia Power initially submitted its IRP this year, it offered up no additional solar resources for the next 20 years beyond some modest solar acquisitions made last year that totaled less than 1 percent of the company’s current electric demand by 2015, according to Kidd.
“I think it means that members of the PSC have begun to look at alternative means of producing energy. Solar has come a long way the last two years. It’s something we should look into now not another 15 or 18 years like Georgia Power’s proposal,” Kidd said. “I think the PSC looked at it as an economic tool that if there are corporations that want to have the less expensive energy they can, and solar might be a path they want to pursue. This was a requirement to force Georgia Power not to have competition necessarily but to get into the solar business themselves.”
The IRP also included the closure 16 oil and coal-fired power plants across the state. Georgia Power asked to retire the units because of new federal air-pollution rules that make them too expensive to retrofit.
The local Plant Harlee Branch falls under this group.
Kidd said the Plant Branch has supplied Putnam County with nearly 40 percent of its tax revenue over the years.
“The loss of the plant is monumental to my community. At the moment, developers have plans to rescue our area by putting a large solar installation into Putnam County that will shore up lost revenues and create jobs,” Kidd said.
GaSU pushed for a solar farm adjacent to Plant Branch last year, but fell short. The proposal included an 80-megawatt project on 2,200 acres adjacent to Georgia Power’s coal-fired facility.
“Now, we hope (Georgia Power) will look at that land to use some of the solar power that the Public Service Commission told them to generate,” Kidd.
Other key components of the stipulated IRP are:
• Within 30 days, Georgia Power must file its projected project plan for a low-income demand-side management program for the direct installation of eligible energy efficiency measures for about 25,000 eligible homes;
• Changing the close date of Plant Branch Unit 1 from Dec. 31, 2013 to coincide with the closing of Units 3 and 4 in 2015.
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