Georgia legislators introduce bill for up to 2GW of rural solar

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Georgia could be poised to build up 2GW of large-scale solar if a bill introduced last week passes the state legislature.

Representative Rusty Kidd introduced the Rural Georgia Economic Recovery and Solar Resource Act of 2014 and was co-sponsored by Independents, Republicans and Democrats.

“Solar energy is an abundant resource that is not going to go away,” said Kidd. “We don’t have to pay for the sun.”

Georgia currently only has 749 PV installations with a capacity of 22,101kW, according to the Georgia Solar Energy Association.

HB657 will create large-scale solar farms that produce electricity for customers who choose to opt in through their utility bill, similar to other community solar models. The programme would operate through the state's main utility, Georgia Power.

The bill does not stipulate a mandated capacity – a figure to be determined by the Public Utilities Commission – but advocates believe that 2GW would be possible, equivalent to 5% of Georgia Power's energy portfolio. The utility would work with a single developer who would be granted a statewide monopoly by the PUC.

Georgia has struggled to recover from the closure of its textile industry in the 1970s and 1980s. It is also a heavily rural state with plenty of land to convert into solar farms, said Ted Terry, a spokesman at GA Solar Utilities, which helped draft the bill.

“We're reaching a tipping point because the median age of Georgia is getting older and family farmers are getting to the point where they want to either pass on their land or sell it to agricultural corporations.

“We're talking about utility-scale solar, not about rooftops or parking lots, because solar is the new cash crop for Georgia. We joke that we're going to farm photons.”

GA Solar Utilities hopes to be the utility's developer of choice and has developed a financing model that raises capital through the bond market.

“When you go to the bond market if you can pull as much liability and assets together you get a much cheaper interest rate,” said Terry. “Instead of 12% from a bank we're talking 5% from corporate bonds.”

The company would also source as much equipment within the state as possible, including panels from MAGE Solar, a German panel maker with a facility in Dublin, Georgia.

“We think we'll have the best plan mainly because we're using the Cadillac of solar panels – mono and polycrystalline which have a guaranteed life for 25-30 years and if you do an aggressive O&M we can make them last 40 years.”

An NREL report last year, US Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS- Based Analysis, found that the estimated technical potential of rural PV was much greater than rooftop PV, at 153,000GW versus 664GW. NREL listed Georgia's technical potential for rural utility scale installations at 3,088GW.

The bill is likely to be controversial. Georgia has no Renewable Portfolio Standard and Georgia Power is notoriously aggressively defensive of its market share. Southern Company, Georgia Power's parent company, is building additional reactors at its Vogtle nuclear power plant.

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