Six percent of Georgia’s electricity produced by renewables, an oft-overlooked detail

By David Pendered

As Georgia Power proposes to expand its use of renewable energy resources, one part of the conversation that gets scant attention is the considerable amount of energy already being generated from renewable resources.

Wind farm

Georgia Power purchases electricity created by wind turbines in Oklahoma. The deal was signed in 2013 and service started Jan. 1. Credit: vinceairscoop.com

All told, Georgia Power expects to have nearly 1,000 megawatts of solar resources online or under contract by the end of this year, company spokesman John Kraft said Monday.

Six percent of Georgia’s electricity generation comes from renewable resources, including hydroelectric power, according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Residential rates are 17.3 percent lower than the U.S. average, according to the EIA.

Georgia’s posture compares favorably to North Carolina, which in 2007 became the first in the southeast to adopt energy portfolio standards. The law requires that 12.5 percent of the state’s electricity be generated from renewable resources, or efficiency measures, by 2021.

North Carolina now generates 6.6 percent of its electricity from renewable resources, including hydroelectric, biomass and solar, according to its EIA report. Residential rates are 11.3 percent lower than the U.S. average, according to the EIA.

Georgia has taken more of a market-based response to portfolio standards than has North Carolina. Georgia Power has what it calls its balanced energy policy, which calls for a mix of power sources – coal, nuclear, natural gas, renewable energy and efficiency.

On Jan. 1, Georgia Power started a 250-megawatt contract to buy wind power generated in Oklahoma through a contract with EDP Renewables North America. The deal was announced in 2013 but didn’t get much attention when delivery commenced this year.

Solar panels

Georgia Power is installing 136,000 solar panels on 258 acres at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay. The finished product will be similar to this one, at Georgia Power’s Dalton Solar Farm. Credit: kingsbayperiscope.jacksonville.com

Georgia Power also is under contract to install and operate solar power panels at five military facilities in Georgia. The solar farms are expected to generate a total of 166 MW.

These installations are to be fully operational by the end of the year at the Army bases at forts Benning, Gordon, and Stewart. Two others are in the pipeline, one at the submarine base at Kings Bay, and one at the Marine Corps Logistics Base, in Albany.

All the solar farms are to be operational by Dec. 31, Kraft said.

In addition to these efforts, Georgia Power has agreed to procure a total of 785 MW in solar energy through its negotiations with Georgia’s utility regulator, the Public Service Commission.

The 785 MW amount was agreed to in the form of a 2011 deal to provide 50 MW; a 2012 deal to provide 210 MW; and a 2013 deal to provide 525 MW of energy from renewable resources.

Georgia Power’s current proposal in the 2016 Integrated Resource Plan is to provide an additional 525 MW from renewable resources. The IRP is a state-mandated 20-year plan to ensure Georgia’s energy needs are met.

The PSC is expected to take action on the the plan this summer.

The IRP provides some interesting insights into the challenges of providing energy from renewable resources.

Paul Bowers

Paul Bowers, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power, helped dedicate a solar tracking project at the University of Georgia in December 2015. Tracking increases the amount of electricity solar panels produce, and also increases costs. Credit: southerncompany.mediaroom.com

Consider the notion that installing solar panels on more rooftops would create enough solar power to allow coal power plants to be shuttered. It isn’t as easy to implement as might be expected.

For starters, Georgia Power’s analysis included in the IRP presumes panels on houses and commercial buildings probably won’t be able to be tilted to maintain exposure to sunlight.

Current technology allows for panels to track the sun as it moves from east to west during the day. A Canadian company, Strathcona Solar, estimates this ability increases electricity production by 34 percent, compared to a system that can’t be tilted.

Additional technology allows for panels to tilt from north to south to maintain exposure as the sun changes azimuth during the year. Strathcona Solar estimates this feature increases solar yield by 37 percent, compared to a stationary system.

All these features cost money. Strathcona Solar recommends against the dual tilting system because costs outweigh benefits.

Then there’s the question about the angle of the panel toward the sky, according to the Georgia Power report.

Solar panels on flat roofs are typically installed at angles of 10 percent to 15 percent. The pitch of residential roofs ranges from 18 to 45 degrees – much steeper than flat roofs and evidently requiring panels to be lifted up at base to point properly toward the sun.

Finally, there’s the issue of the direction in which panels on residential roofs would point. South is the preferred direction, and a third of roofs would enable that installation. The report presumes a third of roofs face southeast and a third face southwest.

 

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. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

6 replies
  1. Wormser Hats says:

    As long as Georgia Power (and it’s parent) flirts with renewables and efficiency, how about they work with Hizzoner’s administration to restore street lighting to the Atlanta’s arterial interstates (makeing it more-cost and energy efficient while they’re at it).
    Msrs. Reed, Garrett, Fanning, and McMurry should be locked in a room together and not allowed out until they’ve a solution that brings Atlanta out of the dark ages.Report

    Reply
  2. Terry Schiff says:

    Thanks to Georgia Power for its continuing commitment to sustainable energy. GP sets an example of responsible stewardship of our environment for citizens of our state, and other electric utilities.Report

    Reply
  3. DougShip says:

    David– the GP analysis misses the point.  The incentives don’t exist (state level tax credits or high purchasing agreements) to incent the market.  The issue isn’t roof or panel angles– it’s the finances.  GP does better when it “builds” it’s own power production of any type and doesn’t want a distributed model long term.  There are plenty of flat, commercial roofs alone throughout the state to allow for installation of 525 MW and any residential would be in addition.  It’s all about the financial incentives and long term lack of desire by GP to allow private entities to produce power in Georgia….Report

    Reply
  4. Chris Parrish says:

    Terry Schiff Georgia Power and Southern Company have been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.  Their lobbyists are responsible for the abysmally small tax credits and limits on net-metering in GA.  These solar projects are just lip service to appease state reps who are under pressure from their constituents to move forward.  If Georgia Power was serious about solar, they would be offering incentives to businesses to install panels on their roofs and over their parking lots.  The $20B that we are already paying for another nuke plant would pay for every house in GA to install solar.Report

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  5. Chris Parrish says:

    DougShip It’s all about GP keeping control over us.  The article spends a lot of time talking about the downside of solar such as additional costs for alignment controls.  GP could install enough solar panels this year to shut down every coal powered plant.Report

    Reply
  6. Terry Schiff says:

    Chris, we have to praise progress. The fact is they are investing in sustainable energy. If we adopt a carbon fee and dividend plan like Washinton State is considering, we will give them even more incentive to transition away from fossil fuels. Let’s work together.Report

    Reply

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