In a 4-1 vote on Thursday, the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) approved Georgia Power’s revised 2016 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), under which the utility will add 1.6 GW of new solar and other renewable energy by 2021.
The new long-term energy plan represents a compromise between Georgia Power and several other parties, including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and the Sierra Club. Although Georgia Power originally proposed to add 525 MW of renewables by 2021 under its IRP, the finalized deal more than triples that.
Ashley Stukes-West, a spokesperson for Georgia Power, says the IRP is “a collaborative, open process” and stipulated agreements are “a normal part of the constructive regulatory environment in Georgia.”
“This agreement was the result of work across the groups – we’re pleased to have reached a final decision that furthers our ability to deliver clean, reliable and affordable energy for our 2.5 million customers,” she tells Solar Industry.
Stukes-West adds, “We are committed to adding cost-effective renewable generation as part of a balanced and diverse energy mix in a way that doesn’t put upward pressure on rates for our customers.”
In a press release, Ted Terry, director of the Sierra Club’s Georgia chapter, praises Georgia Power and the PSC for their decisions.
“Georgia has recently been ranked the top state for the creation of jobs in the clean energy sector, largely due to our fast-growing solar industry. So, this increased commitment to renewables is not only a smart move for our environment, but also for our local economy,” explains Terry.
SACE, which had wanted Georgia Power to add a minimum of 2 GW, calls the 1.6 GW deal a “reasonable compromise” that is a “substantial improvement” from Georgia Power’s previous proposal.
“As we’ve seen across the country and here in Georgia with the first solar programs approved in 2013, more renewable energy means more savings for customers,” says Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of SACE, in a press release. “These projects cost less than the projected cost of generating power.”
According to a PSC announcement, the bulk of Georgia Power’s new 1.6 GW will come from the utility’s Renewable Energy Development Initiative (REDI).
Under REDI, Georgia Power will procure 1.2 GW of new renewable resources, including 1.05 GW of utility-scale power and 150 MW of distributed generation (DG). The utility-scale portion will be sought through two requests for proposals (RFPs) in 2017 and 2019. The PSC notes that Georgia Power can’t procure any more than 300 MW of wind resources under REDI – which, of course, could signal big opportunities ahead for solar in the state.
Also included in the new IRP are an additional 100 MW of DG, with an RFP to be released in 2017, and 200 MW of self-build renewable projects.
According to SACE, the PSC has officially signed off on the retirement of one coal plant and capped Georgia Power’s capital expenditures at other coal plants. However, in a 4-1 vote, the PSC has also granted Georgia Power permission to pass on $99 million in costs to ratepayers for the investigation and licensing of possible new nuclear resources.
“We appreciate the commission’s recognition of the importance of preserving new nuclear as a timely energy option for our customers,” comments Georgia Power’s Stukes-West.
In the PSC press release, Commission Chairman Chuck Eaton states, “I believe this IRP strikes the right balance between ensuring Georgia Power customers have reliable service and the right mix of resources while at the same time not paying for un-needed resources.”
“Adding renewables and nuclear together makes sense,” says Commissioner Tim Echols. “I am committed to keeping rates low and energy plentiful, diverse and clean.”
Meanwhile, Commissioner Stan Wise remarks, “We can debate the wisdom of the coal exodus, but it must be replaced with something that is cost-effective. Nuclear power remains among the lowest-cost energy sources, with a 92 percent reliability rating, and it is carbon free. Nuclear deployment takes time, and I refuse to sit on my hands.”