Valdosta Daily Times

December 23, 2012

Solar power push has Authority working to establish connections

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Since the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) approved Georgia Power Company’s plan Nov. 20 to add 210 megawatts of solar power to its electrical grid, the Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority has been devising strategies to draw solar energy producers to South Georgia.

Georgia Power will issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) from solar energy collection and production companies in early 2013, according to the PSC, and the company will contract with the lowest bidders to purchase their energy and place it on the Georgia Power electrical grid for public consumption.

Georgia Power plans to add 90 megawatts to its grid from distributed generation (small companies producing between 100 kilowatts and 1 megawatt), and 120 megawatts of large utility-scale projects producing up to 20 megawatts each. The company plans to price the solar energy at $0.13 per kWh for distributed generation and up to $0.12 per kWh for utility-scale projects, according to the PSC.

This government-approved commercial push for solar energy could be a boon to sunny South Georgia as well as the greater Valdosta area specifically, and the Authority is prepared to accommodate the solar energy producers they expect.

“I think there’s a very good possibility of solar energy coming to South Georgia,” Executive Director Andrea Schruijer said. “Possibly in the near future.”

The Authority attended a solar energy conference earlier in the year to learn about the needs of solar energy producers. The Authority plans to maintain up-to-date information about the area on their new web site for “those individuals looking for large tracts of land” for solar facilities, Schruijer said.

“Valdosta continues to be an area of interest, and a lot of people have a lot of interest,” Schruijer said. The Authority would not disclose which companies have approached them for information, but Schruijer admitted that solar energy can be listed under the Authority’s “active prospects.”

While the Authority currently has three open business parks available for development, space in these parks is not available for solar power, as it would be too expensive and inappropriate for such a facility, Schruijer said. Solar companies are seeking “agricultural-based land” close to a three-phase power line and low traffic.

Wiregrass Power currently owns a small solar facility, and the Authority is currently in a legal battle for ownership of the land leased to the power company for the development of a biomass plant, which was never developed. This land is ideal for solar development, Schruijer said.

The Authority is helping solar prospects to identify choice areas. A company would need about 60 acres to produce a large enough plant to impact electrical service in our area, Schruijer said earlier this month.

“What we’re seeing is an increase in people looking for property to build solar facilities,” Schruijer said. “They come to us asking where is available land, where there is a power hookup, all different types of things.”

The Authority is also promoting solar energy as an investment for area businesses “to help relieve some of their costs for power,” Schruijer said. In addition to saving energy costs by producing their own electricity, businesses can qualify for up to $500,000 in government tax credits for solar electrical systems. Homeowners can get up to $10,500.