Georgia votes for 525MW of new solar projects

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Georgia’s Public Service Commission (PSC) has approved a new programme requiring local energy generator and distributor, Georgia Power, to build 525MW of new solar capacity in the state by 2016.

The programme was proposed by commissioner Lauren McDonald and won by a vote of 3-2. It requires Georgia Power to include in its 20-year integrated resources plan (IRP) an additional 525MW of solar generation. Of this 260MW will be implemented by 2015 and 265 MW by 2016.

Around 125MW has been earmarked for smaller projects, and 100MW of this capacity will be distributed, and 425MW of utility-scale solar will be offered for competitive bidding.

McDonald said: “I believe this is the right step to take if we are to encourage the development and use of solar energy.”

The commission chairman, Chuck Eaton said the state of Georgia “has to look to the future”, and that the commission is “making decisions that affect millions of Georgians, ensuring that we have reliable electric service”.

Commissioner Tim Echols, who supported the solar motion after recently visiting Germany to view their renewable energy production, said the vote was 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.”

Mark Bell, chairman of the Georgia Solar Energy Association (GSEA), a not-for-profit organisation promoting solar energy use in Georgia, said: “During the IRP hearings, the commissioners heard testimony about the value of solar. We know it can increase business productivity and reduce energy bills for homeowners.”

In October 2011 Commissioner McDonald asked why the solar industry in Georgia had not developed, and what changes were needed. Georgia Solar Utilities (GaSU) proposed a solar plan in response, in 2012.

In November 2012 the PSC approved the Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative (GPASI), a solar energy purchase programme aiming to promote the use and increase of affordable renewable energy in Georgia and contract 210MW of solar by 2014.

The motion passed last week also agreed the closing and decertifying of 16 coal-fired electric generation units and to convert two coal-fired units to burn natural gas, and to bring 13 coal-fired generation units into compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS).

Georgia had only 749 PV installations with a capacity of 22,101kW as of March 2013, according to the Georgia Solar Energy Association.

Two solar companies recently announced plans for Georgia’s largest solar plant and the Rural Georgia Economic Recovery and Solar Resource Act of 2014 was also recently introduced.

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