Where will Georgia Solar Utilities Inc. get the 2,200 acres it says it needs to build 80 MW of solar generation? Well, it’s supposed to be “adjacent to Georgia Power Co’s coal-burning Plant Branch near Milledgeville, Ga.”, so let’s look there.
A brochure on Plant Branch by Georgia Power (undated, but last date mentioned is 1998, so I’m guessing 1999) says:
Located on 1,900 acres on Lake Sinclair in Putnam County between Eatonton and Milledgeville, Plant Branch was the first million-plus-kilowatt electric generating station to operate on the Georgia Power system. It is named for Harllee Branch Jr., former chairman of the board of Southern Company and president of Georgia Power. Construction on the plant began in 1961, and by the summer of 1969, four units were in operation. The 1,539,000 kilowatts generated by Plant Branch provides enough electrical power for 342,000 households.
And now Plant Branch will be among the first to close coal-generating units. According to Melissa Stiers for GPB News 12 July 2011, Georgia Power Closing Three Plants,
Two coal fired units at Plant Branch in Milledgeville will close in 2013. That’s a result of federal regulation tightening air pollution controls. The company has said it’s too costly to upgrade those units.
As we know, Georgia Power’s parent The Southern Company claimed it was incompetent to deal with the new EPA regulations even though it had already announced the Plant Branch closures (amounting to about 770 MW), and later SO announced 4,000 MW of coal plant closures.
While the various news stories keep saying Plant Branch is in Milledgeville, actually, it’s on the other side of Lake Sinclair, closer to Eatonville, and in Putnam County. A quick glance at the Putnam County Tax Assessor database maps shows that the land parcel containing Plant Branch is 913.87 acres, much of which isn’t actually used by the plant. And Georgia Power owns a total of more than 3,000 acres adjacent to that site. So I’m guessing the 2,200 acres figure is simply around 3,100 total Georgia Power acres minus 913 acres for the present Plant Branch site.
Estimates for land needed for a megawatt of solar power generation range from 5 to 9 acres. I usually use 6 acres / solar MW as a rule of thumb, which would be 480 acres for 80 MW. Suppose it’s 7 acres / solar MW: that’s 560 acres. Even at 9 acres / solar MW that’s only 720 acres. So there’s plenty of room on land Georgia Power already owns for an 80 MW solar plant without unduly disturbing the woods or the deer.
With Moore’s Law continuing to push down the price of solar generation, GaSU’s proposed plant is just the first of utility-scale solar plants we’re going to see proposed while Georgia Power and SO are frittering away Georgia Power customer dollars paying in advance for that nuclear boondoggle at Plant Scherer. And there is plenty of private investment ready to go for solar plants, as GaSU has demonstrated, without needing the GA PSC to approve cost overruns being paid for by Georgia Power customers, and without any $8.3 billion loan guarantee, all unlike the nuke boondoogle.
Next to Plant Branch is a sensible location for a utility-scale solar power plant because the power lines already go there.
However, if Georgia Solar Utilities (GaSU) really is planning to use land owned by Georgia Power, it seems as if GaSU needs to get agreement from Georgia Power to do that. Which means the Georgia Public Service Commission (GA PSC) needs to convince Georgia Power to do that.
There’s an election going on right now. Maybe we should elect some Commissioners and legislators who will make it so.
While we’re at it, let’s modify that 1973 Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act so that not only can utilities like GaSU set up shop without having to go hat-in-hand to Georgia Power or GA PSC, so that also you and I can put solar panels on our own rooftops or parking lots and sell the power on an open market! The 80 MW GaSU is proposing is less than the 770 MW Georgia Power is closing, but if we could all profit by distributing solar generation on surfaces that now cost money to air condition, we could quickly replace that 770 MW or even the total of 4,000 MW of coal generation Southern Company says it’s closing: replace it with clean solar power that requires no water to cool and no fuel to burn!
Ask yourself, does Georgia Power own the sunshine?