ELECTRICITY:

Georgia Power plan would install solar arrays on 3 Army bases

Georgia Power and the Army jointly released plans to install large solar arrays at three military bases yesterday in what officials say could be a model for other states.

The three solar arrays are scheduled to start producing power in 2015 and will lead to the Army getting 18 percent of its electricity in Georgia from renewable fuels that are on-site.

The 90 total megawatts of solar electricity also will move the Army 9 percent closer to meeting federal goals for renewable energy.

Adding three 30 MW arrays would continue to boost Georgia's rapidly growing solar output and would help the military meet its renewable energy goals to become sustainable and more secure.

The move also alleviates mounting political and public pressure on Georgia Power to remove roadblocks that some say have made it difficult for the military to meet its federal renewable energy goals.

"From the commission standpoint, it's a joint venture between the Georgia Public Service Commission and the Georgia Power Co. It is a partnership," PSC member Lauren "Bubba" McDonald said in an interview with EnergyWire. "Georgia will be the model state."

At least a couple of state utility regulators have been working with Georgia Power for months on a program specifically to install solar at military bases. The utility will use a 90 MW self-build project that the Georgia Public Service Commission approved in 2007 to implement its plans.

Georgia Power officials and the Army signed a nonbinding memorandum of understanding on March 6. The utility said the agreement is nonbinding because it is currently "working with the Army to finalize development and construction plans."

McDonald said this program is an extension of his efforts last summer when he shepherded a proposal to have Georgia Power add 525 MW of solar to the grid as part of the utility's long-term energy plan.

"I said, 'We can work as adversaries, and if we fail, we both lose. Or we can work as a partnership,'" McDonald said. The veteran politician is seeking another PSC term and faces two other Republican opponents in next week's primary election.

No rate changes expected

The Army Energy Initiatives Task Force and Georgia Power released details of the project, called "Georgia 3x30," yesterday morning. The arrays will be installed at Fort Benning near Columbus, Fort Gordon near Augusta and Fort Stewart near Savannah.

Georgia Power will finance, design, build, own and operate the solar systems. The agreement includes a 35-year land easement, and the Army would buy the power using an existing contract with the General Services Administration. Approximately 250 acres have been identified as potential development sites at each of the bases, the company said.

"Georgia Power is not paying for the land," the company said in an emailed statement.

The projects eventually will be incorporated into Georgia Power's rate base, which is what happens with other power plants. The arrays will be cheaper than the "avoided cost," which is the amount it would otherwise cost Georgia Power to generate electricity.

"The Army will still get the credit for the renewable energy because it's on their property," said PSC Chairman Chuck Eaton. "It's going to be like any other asset."

Georgia Power said all the projects will be completed by the end of 2016 so the utility can "capture and pass along the tax benefits to our customers." The projects are not expected to put "any additional upward pressure on rates," the utility said.

The Army said there would be no change in its rates or utility costs.

Military focus

Georgia and the Southeast have lagged in renewable energy until recently. The state ranks in the top 10 of solar installations last year and is poised to be in the top five by the end of 2014, solar industry experts say.

This is largely because of Georgia Power's program that will place more than 800 MW of solar under contract by 2016.

One component has been missing, and that's adding renewable energy at military bases in any major way (EnergyWire, Feb. 24).

Robins Air Force Base is getting a 10 MW solar array, but 100 percent of that electricity will be sold to Georgia Power and won't be used to defray electricity costs at the base.

Georgia Power says a military base is one of the largest customers of the utility's Green Energy program, which sells renewable energy and then uses the proceeds to finance new alternative energy projects in the state.

The utility says all the electricity produced by the 30 MW solar generation projects will be delivered to the utility's grid. "In case of service interruptions, military bases receive high attention and priority from Georgia Power from restoration efforts," the company said.

That doesn't take care of the Defense Department's primary motivation of adding solar or other forms of renewable energy: security. Bases are turning to alternative forms of power to provide energy surety and sustainability against natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

They also would be able to operate using their own grid while cutting costs. DOD is the largest single consumer of energy, spending approximately $4 billion on power at its fixed installations each year, so the payoff for affordable renewable energy stands to be significant.

Reducing energy costs and saving money is critical to keeping bases open during a future Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC.

"It will be helpful to have Georgia facilities say, 'We're meeting our renewable energy mandates,'" said Bobby Baker, a former Georgia public service commissioner who now practices energy law.

Revisiting solar bill

This is not the first time Georgia Power has announced a solar program when major legislation to expand solar has been hovering. There have been repeated efforts in the Georgia Legislature to make it easier for residents and businesses to finance solar panels instead of paying all of the costs upfront.

Most of those bills haven't received more than a hearing. The most recent proposal is slated to go further, many say.

The bill (H.B. 874) was introduced during the 2014 legislative session but was assigned to a special study committee.

Representatives from Georgia Power and the state's municipal and electric cooperatives originally said they would work with the bill's sponsor after the session was over. When it seemed like the bill was going to move forward earlier this year, the utilities changed their stance and openly opposed it (EnergyWire, Feb. 28).

The study committee won't meet for another month or so. Right now the only thing on the minds of Georgia's elected officials is the Tuesday state primary.

Committee Chairman and Georgia Rep. Don Parsons said he hopes to hold a meeting in a month or so to restart the conversation.

"There is some common sense attached with this legislation," said Parsons, a Republican from Marietta. "This is not a study committee to bury the thing."

Parsons said he hasn't talked to Georgia Power about its plans to install solar on three military bases, "but they also haven't called me at all."

Bill sponsor Rep. Mike Dudgeon (R) called yesterday's agreement with Georgia Power and the Army "historic."

"Our military has deemed solar mission-critical for enhancing energy security, improving energy reliability and controlling energy costs. My legislation aims to bring similar solar options to Georgia schools, businesses and families," Dudgeon said.

Georgia Power said it would revisit the bill "when and if it is introduced."

Twitter: @BizWriterKristi | Email: kswartz@eenews.net

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