Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Georgia Power gets green light for solar power option

The collectors will supply enough electric power for 1,000 homes.

Starflower
Posted: July 6, 2010 - 10:31pm
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By Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA - Georgia Power won approval Tuesday morning to build solar collectors around the state big enough to supply 1,000 homes with electricity when operating.

The Georgia Public Service Commission voted 4-1 to approve Georgia Power's integrated-resources plan, its long-term blueprint for how it will supply electricity to its customers across the state.

However, the commission rejected by 3-2 a motion that would have doubled the amount of solar the company would have to use. The motion by Commissioner Chuck Eaton would have required the utility to buy the solar power from private industry in a proposal he said would expand the commercial viability of emerging solar technology.

"My gut tells me that the cost of it, the technology of it, these are coming down the road," Eaton said, noting that he was proposing a modest project to minimize impact on consumers.

But Commissioner Doug Everett objected.

"I can't see adding even a small amount to ratepayers at this time," he said.

The company has operated a few solar units over the years, including seven panels that supply its corporate headquarters in Atlanta as a research project. It also buys some solar power on the commercial market that it sells to ratepayers who agree to a higher charge for power from renewable sources.

Adding 1 megawatt to the so-called base power supply through the new plan will give company engineers experience dealing with the nights and cloudy days when solar isn't available to meet consumer demand.

Tuesday's vote was followed by acceptance of a staff recommendation on the procedures for consideration of Georgia Power's $1 billion rate-hike increase filed last week. Under a new law, the commission will charge the company the expense of outside experts hired to evaluate rate-hike requests.

When company officials developed the rate request, they assumed the commission would OK the 20-year, integrated-resources plan it authorized approved Tuesday since it must be re authorized every three years.

"The cost of that will get rolled into the overall rate base," said company spokeswoman Lynn Wallace.

Besides the solar units, the company now has a green light to add three natural-gas generators at Plant McDonough, to search for more power that it can purchase from private generating companies and to begin to look for new sources should a federal carbon tax force it to retire some of its oldest coal-fueled plants.

Building and buying isn't the only way the company is instructed to meet consumer needs over the next two decades. The company is to accelerate its campaigns to convince customers to use 900 megawatts less electricity, aiming to free up enough through savings to supply 225,000 homes by the year 2013.

walter.jones@morris.com, (404) 589-8424

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