Georgia Power buys 99MW in two Georgia solar projects

Decatur County scores two big solar projects. When will Lowndes County get a move on in solar? How about some projects like this at your empty industrial parks, Valdosta-Lowndes Development Authority? Now that even Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning is bragging about renewable energy, maybe the solar sun is shining enough for other local governments to see it.

Southern Company PR, PRnewsWire, 20 February 2015, Southern Company subsidiary acquires two Georgia solar projects totaling 99 megawatts,

Southern Company subsidiary Southern Power today announced the acquisition of two photovoltaic (PV) solar projects totaling 99 megawatts (MW) in Georgia — the 80-MW Decatur Parkway Solar Project and the 19-MW Decatur County Solar Project — from Tradewind Energy, Inc.

The projects were proposed by Tradewind Energy, Inc. and selected by Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power in a competitive process through the nationally recognized Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative.

“Southern Power’s strategic investment in the Decatur solar projects will help meet Georgia’s growing energy needs,” said Southern Company Chairman, President and CEO Thomas A. Fanning. “These projects and others are enhancing Georgia’s position as a national leader in renewable energy.”

Which is quite a turnaround from June 2012, when Fanning was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying

If conventional coal is not going to get done, and there’s only a few people who can do nuclear—this ain’t a job for beginners—you’re left with gas and, heaven forbid, renewables?” He cautions: “Now I’m as excited about renewables as anybody. But they’re a niche play.

No more “heaven forbid” or “niche play”.

But let’s compare the numbers. Back to today’s PR:

With the development of the Decatur County projects, Southern Power will own approximately 670 MW of renewable energy generating capacity that is either already in operation or under development. The company owns seven solar projects in partnership with Turner Renewable Energy and one solar project in partnership with First Solar. Southern Power also owns one of the nation’s largest biomass power plants in Nacogdoches, Texas, and has recently announced plans to develop a 131-MW solar facility in Taylor County, Georgia, which is expected to be completed in 2016.

The PR doesn’t mention those Turner projects are in other states, and it lumps biomass in with renewables. That Nacogdoches boondoggle is rated at 100 MW, so that’s really 570 MW of solar power by Southern Power.

Southern Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, is a leading U.S. wholesale energy provider, meeting the electricity needs of municipalities, electric cooperatives and investor-owned utilities. With these acquisitions, Southern Power and its subsidiaries will own and operate 21 facilities in eight states, with more than 9,100 MW of generating capacity operating or under development in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Texas.

So that’s 6.2% solar.

But wait:

With more than 4.5 million customers and approximately 46,000 megawatts of generating capacity, Atlanta-based Southern Company (NYSE: SO) is the premier energy company serving the Southeast through its subsidiaries.

So 570 MW / 46,000 MW is 1.24%.

Sorry Tom, that still looks pretty niche. But if you keep doubling solar deployments every year, you can fix that.

Stopping these two boondoggles would also help:

Southern Company and its subsidiaries are leading the nation’s nuclear renaissance through the construction of the first new nuclear units to be built in a generation of Americans and are demonstrating their commitment to energy innovation through the development of a state-of-the-art coal gasification plant.

Southern Company says the Vogtle nuclear units 3 and 4 it’s building would produce 2.2 GW total. And they’re already a billion dollars over budget and would suck up more water than the city of Savannah, according to Mary Landers, SavannaNow, 20 August 2014, Latest Vogtle spending approved; plea for water conservation ignored.

Two years ago now, Google said it had spent about a billion dollars in solar and wind power that could produce 2 GW of energy. That’s right, for just the cost overrun of Plant Vogtle, Google already bought almost that much real renewable energy two years ago. Southern Company could have deployed several times Vogtle unit 2 and 3’s 2.2 GW in solar energy instead by now, on budget, on time, and without any need to suck up cooling water.

In May 2013, Southern Company’s stock got downgraded over Vogtle and that Kemper “clean coal” project, because of delays and cost overruns. SO’s stock ran up since then, but is now back almost at the same price as after that downgrade.

Changing the rhetoric is a good first step. Buying a few solar farms is even better. SO needs to keep doing that, and doing it faster, for solar power to be more than a niche play for Georgia Power or Southern Company. If SO doesn’t do that, the infamous “death spiral” awaits for utilties that don’t get on with renewable energy. Heaven forbid that. Actually, Tom Fanning and Georgia Power CEO Tom Fanning forbid that, by getting on with solar power even faster.

Fortunately, there are other signs this is happening. Georgia Power in 2014 deployed four 30-MW each solar plants on military bases in Georgia. And Georgia Power claims credit for the HB 57 solar financing bill that already unanimously passed the Georgia House.

The easiest way to make people believe Georgia Power or SO is serious would be to cancel Plant Vogtle. And in any case doubling solar deployments each year would do the trick.