Georgia Power CLEAN programs deploy over 500 MW of local solar

Georgia Power has determined a way to offer benefits to its customers with wholesale distributed generation.

CLEAN programs (Clean Local Energy Accessible Now) are currently purveyed throughout the United States as programs that make it easier to build clean local energy projects, get them connected to the grid, and establish long-term contracts to sell the power produced to utilities. Georgia Power’s recent success with their CLEAN programs and distributed solar is indicative of real solutions solving real energy problems at the local level.

Since the Clean Coalition’s inception, we have worked tirelessly to proliferate CLEAN programs around the country. Working with utilities and local governments, the Clean Coalition incentivizes the process by offering clear solutions benefitting the communities involved, their economies, and the environment.

Georgia Power — owned by Southern Company, the third largest utility in the United States — has figured out a way to offer benefits to its customers that many utility companies haven’t attempted yet: with wholesale distributed generation (WDG). WDG refers to distributed generation systems that connect to the local distribution grid and sell the electricity they produce to the local utility. The clean local energy produced by WDG is used to serve local energy demand.

The decreasing costs of solar installations, increasing costs of electricity, and efforts by the Georgia Public Service Commission have paved the way for Georgia Power’s CLEAN program growth in the state. Georgia Power’s advanced solar initiatives combined with progressive research and forward thinking state energy policies have launched the utility into the national spotlight as a clean energy leader while unleashing WDG. Its significant solar potential went largely untapped until the Clean Coalition introduced their CLEAN Program guidelines and design to the utility in 2012.

Georgia Power serves electricity to over 2 million customers in the State of Georgia, and continually seeks opportunities to deploy renewable energy. Georgia has highlighted clean energy because of its economic benefits, the state’s population growth, and the overall importance of renewable energy.

In an effort to deploy more solar power, the Georgia Public Service Commission approved the Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative in November 2012. The initiative was primarily formed to inspire economic growth within Georgia, while offering standardized pricing that encourages more renewable development and avoids any upward rate pressure and reliability impacts to their customers.

Through this initiative, Georgia Power would acquire 210 MW of new solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity through standardized long-term contracts over a three-year period. Of the 210 MW, 90 MW will be procured through a CLEAN Program, while the other 120 MW will be procured through RFPs.

The initial design included two programs that were aimed at increasing solar development in Georgia: 1) offer existing Georgia Power customers additional options to sell distributed solar generation back to Georgia Power through small- and medium-scale power purchase programs; and 2) offer solar developers the opportunity to bring large PV solar arrays to market through a competitive utility-scale RFP. 

Subsequently, in July 2013, the Georgia Public Service Commission approved an additional 525 MW of solar capacity as part of the 2013 Integrated Resource Plan order. These additional megawatts of solar capacity were similarly allocated between the distributed generation and utility-scale programs. When its efforts are completed by the end of this year, Georgia Power will have nearly 800 MW of new WDG (solar) in its energy portfolio.

CLEAN Programs are focused on the WDG market segment with 100% of the energy sold to the utility on a wholesale basis rather than reducing behind-the-meter load to offset retail energy purchases. Georgia Power’s solar initiatives allowed local businesses, residents, and organizations to install local, renewable energy projects in underutilized spaces such as rooftops and abandoned lots.

Georgia Power’s CLEAN Programs streamlined procurement through a standard offer pricing mechanism, just like a feed-in tariff. In addition, their CLEAN Programs also streamline interconnection, which is one of the biggest obstacles to getting commercial and industrial projects deployed. CLEAN Programs in Georgia drove deployment of renewable energy projects to targeted locations on the grid. Overall, CLEAN Programs were shown to represent the most effective approach for Georgia Power to procure cost-effective local renewables.

Over the next five years Georgia Power has approval to unleash and deploy an additional 1.6 gigawatts (GW) of WDG. This will be in addition to the 800 MW of WDG that was initiated from Georgia Power’s advanced solar initiatives and CLEAN Programs. This milestone equates to nearly 2.5 GW of WDG that will be deployed by Georgia Power Company in the near future.

From an economic perspective, abundant solar resources, falling prices for solar panels, declining installation costs, and a push to add more MW of solar to the grid are benefiting all customers in Georgia. From an environmental perspective, the decreased use of fossil fuels from old power plants — and falling reliance on transmission infrastructure — is cleaning up the state’s air for future generations.

The Clean Coalition continues to work with utilities to come up with innovative solutions in achieving similar successes to Georgia Power’s. Read the Clean Coalition’s full Georgia Power CLEAN brief here.