With Clean Power Plan looming, Ga. gives wind an airing 

Source: Kristi E. Swartz, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Georgia Power and clean energy advocates agree on this: The Peach State could do more when it comes to wind energy. What they disagree on is how much and when.

With the combination of cheap wind and U.S. EPA’s proposed rule that targets greenhouse gas emissions, there’s an opportunity for wind in Georgia to be built or bought, renewable energy boosters said. The state has to reduce its carbon emissions rate by 44 percent under the current proposed target by EPA.

Renewables, including wind energy, are the best option for Georgia to take to comply with EPA’s Clean Power Plan, said Ashten Bailey, a staff attorney with GreenLaw.

“If we go with a combination of wind, solar, energy efficiency and hydro, that will reduce risk to Georgia because it will have less fuel volatility, and they are complementary resources on the system,” Bailey said Friday as part of a panel about the options for wind energy in Georgia.

For the time being, any wind power that comes into Georgia likely will come from regions such as the Midwest or Texas, where the wind constantly blows at higher speeds. The low-speed, inconsistent wind in the Southeast has made it uneconomical with traditional turbines.

New custom wind maps and data released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Southeastern Wind Coalition have opened the door to wind opportunities in the Southeast, however.

The information includes the potential for wind energy projects with current tower hub heights at 110 and 140 meters, which reflects future technology. Previous maps reflected older hub heights at 80 meters (EnergyWire, Dec. 10, 2014).

“If we use this off-the-shelf technology that’s available today, there’s a lot more of Georgia and a lot less sensitive places that are available for wind development,” said Colleen Kiernan, director of the Sierra Club’s Georgia chapter. The amount of wind power that can be developed will improve further when future technology is developed, she said.

Kiernan compared the advances in wind technology to that of solar.

“Solar has developed quickly and the costs have come down and the efficiencies of the panels have improved, and the same thing is happening with wind,” she said.

Georgia Power has been studying wind since 2005, said Ervan Hancock, Georgia Power’s manager of renewable development implementation. The utility is preparing to set up a small-scale wind demonstration at Skidaway Island as part of a partnership with Georgia Southern University and AWS Truepower, a renewable energy consulting and data company.

The project will be four turbines that will generate less than 10 kilowatts of electricity.

A separate two-turbine project is planned for a mountain region but does not have a specific site yet.

Georgia Power and its partners will collect data for roughly two years and use that to help with long-term electricity planning. The company did the same thing years ago with solar by putting seven different types of solar arrays on the roof of Georgia Power.

“We got a good foundation of good data before we took the leap,” Hancock said.

Georgia Power is on track to have 1 gigawatt of solar, mostly from utility-scale projects, on its grid by the end of 2016.

It’s unclear whether that type of growth will happen with wind or how fast.

The utility has a 20-year agreement to buy 250 megawatts of wind from an Oklahoma project owned by Houston-based EDP Renewables North America (EnergyWire, May 20, 2014). But Georgia Power in March told state utility regulators that its review of wind projects from which it could buy electricity are either too risky, uneconomical or unrealistic (EnergyWire, March 4).

The PSC staff is still studying Georgia Power’s filing and is expected to release its own recommendation later this month.

Georgia Power said the issue should be taken up next year as part of its next Integrated Resource Planning process.

“We are open to doing more wind and considering more wind as part of the commission’s and the company’s long-term planning process,” Hancock said. “We’ll be looking at wind, more solar, additional [coal unit] retirements, demand-side energy efficiency. All of those resources need to be looked at together.”

Using a high-voltage direct current transmission line, Georgia’s utilities could buy wind at 4.8 cents a kilowatt-hour, argues Jimmy Glodfelty, executive vice president of Clean Line Energy Partners, which is proposing such a project.

Clean Line wants to extend a 700-mile transmission line into Memphis, which would bring wind energy from Texas and Oklahoma into Tennessee.

“The goal for us in the Southeast is to use the TVA system and the interconnections they have across the Southeast system,” he said.

Glodfelty also pushed Georgia Power to own wind operations outside Georgia. He said state utility regulators should approve such projects and Georgia Power to recoup money from customers for those investments.

“With power purchase agreements and with out-of-state facilities, there should be some benefit for Georgia Power,” he said.

Georgia Power’s sister company, Southern Power, recently agreed to buy a 299-MW wind operation in Oklahoma. Southern will not build, operate or maintain the project, nor will the company use any of the electricity generated from it.

Southern Power is the wholesale unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co. Its business strategy is to grow by acquiring and building generating assets substantially covered by long-term contracts.