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David Pendered

Nuclear power, renewable energy could be on rise in Georgia; coal’s future unclear

By David Pendered

Georgia in recent weeks has been the site of three significant developments that illustrate the nation’s struggle over energy sources.

A Republican proposal to loosen the market grip of power companies in order to promote renewable energy resources was introduced last week in the General Assembly. Senate Bill 401 bill carries the signatures of party leaders including Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons), who essentially governs the chamber, and Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), the majority leader.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has granted both approval and financing for a nuclear power plant in Burke County, at Plant Vogtle. On the other side of the coin, a developer of a planned coal-fired power plant in Early County relinquished in December its permits for the plant as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by environmentalists over its plant in Texas. The fate of a proposed coal-fired plant near Sandersville appears uncertain after Cobb EMC pulled out of the deal.

Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons)

Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons)

The support of Williams and Rogers for SB 401 significantly improves its chances of passage, if not this year then in the foreseeable future. Democrats who signed on include Sen. Jason Carter, of Decatur, a grandson of former President Jimmy Carter; and Sen. Doug Stoner, of Smyrna, the caucus chairman.

Click here to read the legislation.   

Williams and Rogers have prevailed over the state’s power structure in the past.

In 2008, the lawmakers were the two lead signers of a proposal that took on the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, local hospitals, and other backers of the state’s Certificate of Need Law. The law regulates construction of medical facilities in an effort to prevent oversupply.

In 2008, the Legislature changed the CON law in a move that allowed the private, for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America to open a facility in Georgia. The compromise that Williams and Rogers helped negotiate, signed by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, calls for two-thirds of the hospital’s patients to come from outside Georgia. The hospital is slated to open in Newnan in 2012.

Click here to read the saportareport.com story about the groundbreaking in Newnan.

In the case of SB 401, the vested interests include the power companies and their supporters.

The legislation would crack the virtual monopoly the power companies hold over energy creation in the state. The state’s current law governing public utilities makes it financially unfeasible for small power providers, such as homeowners and commercial building owners, to install and operate power systems such as rooftop solar systems and wind turbines.

The proposed change would strip away some restrictions on facilities known as decentralized power generators. Currently, the state and nation relies on a system of central power plants.

The change would enable the creation of a new type of business in Georgia, one that could finance, install and operate solar panels on rooftops of homes and commercial buildings. The legislation specifically adds to the current law power that is generated by solar systems, and by fuels including biomass, municipal solid waste, landfill gas and hydropower.

SB 401 was introduced Feb. 7 and assigned to the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, which handles issues related to energy resources and development.

Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons)

This Westinghouse nuclear plant is to be built at Plant Vogtle. Credit: Westinghouse

The nuclear power plants were approved Feb. 9 by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The units are to begin operating in 2016 and 2017, and represent a $14 billion investment, according to statement from Southern Co., parent company of Georgia Power.

According to the statement:

“Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Co., is overseeing construction and will operate the two new 1,100-megawatt AP1000 units for Georgia Power and co-owners Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and Dalton Utilities. Georgia Power owns 45.7 percent of the new units, with a certified cost of $6.1 billion.”

Click here to read the statement.

The federal loan guarantees for the nuclear plant were announced Feb. 16 by President Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu. The announcement was made at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 26, in Lanham, Md. The two projects are expected to create 3,500 jobs during construction and 800 permanent jobs to run the plants.

A statement by Southern Co. said total guaranteed borrowings would not exceed about $3.4 billion. They are expected to be funded by the Federal Financing Bank and secured by Georgia Power’s interest in the two sites.

Click here to read the statement.

The planned $2 billion coal-fired power plant was jettisoned by developer LS Power Development LLC.

The company was willing to give up its permits, as part of a negotiation over a Texas plant, in part because the 2008 Recession had greatly reduced demand for electricity in Georgia, a company officer told the Associated Press in December. In addition, the plant faced competition from the Plant Vogtle expansion.

An effort to build the proposed $2 billion coal-fired Plant Washington, near Sandersville, may have stumbled last month when the board that oversees Cobb EMC decided with withdraw its support. Other investors are interested in joining the project, according to a report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.



  1. jameshrust March 2, 2012 4:33 pm

                                                                           James H. Rust
    The United States is mapped for potentials of developing solar energy shown by the following url:   http://www.armenergysolutions.net Once at this site, click on solar energy to get the map for solar energy potentials for the United States.
    Solar potentials are given in kw-hr/kw/yr.  This is the theoretical solar energy obtained annually from a solar collector that it is always facing the sun year round when the sun is shining.  This means the collector is moving in two directions all the time–east-west and north-south.
    The highest values are 2100 kw-hr/kw/yr in parts of CA, NV, AZ, and NM.  You can calculate theoretical capacity factors, the ratio of average annual power output from a solar plant to the maximum output at noon June 21 of the year, for solar plants from this data.  The capacity factor is 0.24(2100/8760) for those regions.
    For Georgia, the state has a value of 1600 kw-hr/kw-yr for maximum energy available.  This gives a capacity factor of 0.18.  Capacity factors for nuclear power plants typically are 0.9.
    Examining data from the U. S. Energy Information Administration for solar energy production in the U. S. shows a capacity factor of 0.14.  The solar plants are all in areas of maximum theoretical solar energy availability in the U. S.–CA and AZ.  The reason capacity factors are below 0.24 is the solar collectors only move in one direction–up and down or north-south.  They lose energy due to collectors not directly facing the sun coming up in the East and going down in the West. Other losses are due to the inability to match theoretical maximums in real operating equipment.
    Since Georgia has a theoretical maximum capacity factor of 0.18, a reasonable guess for capacity factors for solar plants built in Georgia would be less than 0.12.  A 1 kilowatt solar power plant would put out possibly 1000 kw-hr/yr.  A 1 kilowatt nuclear power plant in Georgia could produce 7,900 kw-hr/yr.
    Georgia has not developed solar energy because there are too many better places to locate solar plants. Even Florida is a better location to build solar plants.  Florida Power and Light has built two solar plants—a 25 MW photovoltaic power plant in Arcadia and 75 MW thermal plant near Indiantown.  Both plants cost $6 million per MW and occupy 6 acres per MW.
    Costs for commercial and residential photovoltaic power plants are running about $6,000 per kilowatt.  Due to substantial reductions in costs of solar panels produced in China the past year; solar power plants may be built for less than $6,000 per kilowatt.  Because photovoltaic cells degrade with time at possibly one percent or more per year, there is a practical lifetime for the solar panels which would be no more than 25 years.  Assuming a 1 kilowatt Georgia photovoltaic power plant can produce 25,000 kw-hr in its lifetime, the simplest capital cost for electricity would be 24 cents per kw-hr.                                                      
    In contrast the two 1100 MW nuclear power plants under construction near Augusta, Georgia are supposed to be built at a cost of $6400 per kilowatt.  These plants are reported to have a lifetime of 60 years and if operated with a 0.9 capacity factor, a 1 kilowatt nuclear plant could produce 470,000 kw-hr.   Admittedly this is a crude comparison, but the capital cost of the nuclear plant would be 1.4 cents per kw-hr compared to the 24 cents per kw-hr of solar plants.   Capital costs for natural gas- or coal-fired power plants would probably be less than $3,000 per kilowatt; however, they probably would not be operated at the high capacity factors of nuclear power plants.
    Solar plants for commercial or residential use need to carry insurance against natural disasters such as tornadoes, hail storms, or falling trees or tree limbs which can destroy them.  In addition, solar panels need to be cleaned because they function poorly when covered with snow, leaves, and the horrible green pollen that requires daily spring cleaning off car windows in the Atlanta area.
    Solar power plants with the available technology are not competitive with fossil-fueled or nuclear power plants.  In addition, due to their availability of a few hours per day and unreliability due to weather conditions, their lack of competitiveness becomes worse because back-up power sources need to be available when they don’t function.  The back-up power source usually is the Georgia Power Company.
    Solar power plants, and also wind power plants, would not be sold unless there is some means to substantially reduce their costs by payments to their customers by taxpayers and other electric power customers.  The structures of these payments is very complicated and is found on the Department of Energy funded website operated by the University of North Carolina given at   http://www.dsireusa.org/ 
    An attempt to explain these subsidies is the subject of another paper “Solar Energy Possibilities For Georgia—Part II”.
    As an afterthought, one of the new 1100 MW nuclear power plants being built by Georgia Power Company near Augusta would consume 230 million tons of coal or 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas during the plant’s lifetime.  Each of these numbers represents 23 percent of the annual U. S. use today of coal or natural gas.  Building nuclear power plants extends the life of our fossil fuels reserves far out into the future which will help reduce future price increases.  Sometime in the future a new energy source beyond our imagination will be developed as nuclear power was unknown back in the nineteenth century.
    Dr. James H. Rust is a retired Georgia Tech nuclear engineering professor with over fifty year experience in area related to energy policy.Report


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