This is an edited version of original article published by The Signal.


On July 28, the Public Service Commission (PSC) approved Georgia Power’s (GP) long-term utility plan to add around 1,600 Megawatts of new renewable energy capacity – enough to power about 264,000 homes by 2021.

The plan requires 525 megawatts of solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy to be integrated into the system within the next three years. Contracts with outside firms using solar power and renewable energy plants will supply 1,050 megawatts by 2021. Smaller projects around Georgia will also contribute energy.

GP media spokesman John Kraft said that GP wants to use a wide variety of energy sources to provide customers a diversifying mix of reliable, affordable energy.

Currently, 5 percent of Georgia Power’s 1,000 megawatts of energy comes from solar, wind and other renewable energy sources that will expand to a 12 percent share once the Vogtle nuclear power plant expands in Augusta.

“Our major expansion will add two units of plant vogtle,” said Kraft. “Nuclear will play an increasing role around the clock providing emission energy, and the new units are expected to provide power for 60 to 80 years. Nuclear energy can provide energy around the clock.”

Sierra Club’s Chapter Director Ted Terry said he supports Georgia Power’s initiative to increase Georgians’ use of renewable energy but is against the expansion of nuclear power plants.

“It would be better to use large field solar power or other sources of energy instead, because the biggest issue with radioactive waste is how long it takes to degrade,” he said. “Nuclear power plants are costly to insure.”

Terry said the ultimate pathway to renewable energy is “from Midwest wind energy and solar power routes.”

GP will also rely on other sources of renewable energy, such as Georgia’s hydroelectric plants “which are 100 years old now and were some of the first sources of renewable energy,” said Kraft.

However, because Georgia doesn’t have many large rivers, the hydroelectric plants supply limited energy, and other renewable energy sources must make up for that.

“By the end of 2016, we expect to have 1 gigawatt or in other words, 1,000 megawatts of solar energy on our system which is unprecedented for Georgia and puts us near the top tier nationwide,” said Kraft.

“Economical, large-scale solar farms in rural areas will have thousands of acres covered in solar panels. We expect to continue our long term Integrated Resource Plan and follow the Renewable Energy Initiative, which will bring up to 160 megawatts of energy in the recent years to come.”

Wind power will be sourced from wind farms in Oklahoma while biomass will be burned for energy. The methane gases will be captured from burnt, disintegrating biological landfills.

And according to Kraft, environmentally-friendly initiatives don’t always mean higher costs.

“The way we [GP] have approached renewable energy is different from some other states who do it at the cost of their customers. One thing we try to make sure of is that renewable energy expansion will not put upward pressure on rates.”

“For instance, our advanced solar initiative that’s been in place since 2012 was designed so we could go out into the market and have competitive bidding for solar energy. We had solar developers look at what we needed and asked what’s your best price, resulting in great reductions to the cause of solar energy in progress. But you do have to be very careful with how it’s done, because some states have had huge bill increases,” he said.

A majority of the renewable energy will be generated from large-scale utility projects like Vogtle plant, while the rest will be distributed from wind energy and solar panels installed on the rooftops of homes and businesses. Megawatts will also be drawn from Georgia military bases.

Georgia Power’s potential nuclear plants will be evaluated over the next couple of months until 2017, after which the GP estimates it would take about seven years to obtain a plant-building license from the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission which will be followed by a decade of construction.

Now that Georgia’s Public Service Commission has authorized Georgia Power’s plan, several oil-fired and coal-fired plants will be replaced with wind and solar power. Natural gas-fired plants, which follow clean air regulations, may lower the costs of energy raised by operating coal-fired plants.

In 2011, coal generated 62 percent of Georgia Power’s energy supply. Coal energy’s use has been widespread in the United States due to its affordability, but now, GP will invest in cleaner emission technology and turn to renewable energy sources like solar and nuclear power instead. In the future, some coal plants will be converted into natural gas plants, reports Georgia Power.

Other future expansions, projects and goals are mapped out in the 20-year Integrated Resources Plan, which will indirectly affect Georgians’ electricity bills, pollution levels and construction in the state.