Agreement sheds light on Georgia Power’s evolving energy plans

Exterior of Georgia Power’s Plant McDonough-Atkinson, where a group of engineers conduct a test where it will burn hydrogen using existing infrastructure, on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Exterior of Georgia Power’s Plant McDonough-Atkinson, where a group of engineers conduct a test where it will burn hydrogen using existing infrastructure, on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Documents show several changes from the company’s initial plans filed in January, but a deal has not been finalized.

Georgia Power is likely to shelve its battery storage system aspirations for now, while tweaking its method for containing coal ash at one power plant, according to a new agreement filed this week with state utility regulators on the company’s long-range energy plans.

The company’s timeline for shuttering its remaining coal-fired power plants, meanwhile, also appears likely to shift, documents show.

Documents filed Monday show Georgia Power and state Public Service Commission staff are still ironing out details of the company’s Integrated Resource Plan — the utility’s roadmap for generating and delivering electricity for the next two decades. Georgia Power is seeking approval from a majority of the PSC’s five elected members.

That plan has been the subject of dozens of hours of testimony and cross-examination in front of the commission over the past two months.

The agreement struck between Georgia Power and members of the PSC’s public interest staff is not final, but provides a hint of what the approved plans may ultimately look like.

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The timeline for closing Plant Bowen's remaining coal units appears likely to shift, according to a new agreement filed between Georgia Power and PSC staff. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

The timeline for closing Plant Bowen's remaining coal units appears likely to shift, according to a new agreement filed between Georgia Power and PSC staff. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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The timeline for closing Plant Bowen's remaining coal units appears likely to shift, according to a new agreement filed between Georgia Power and PSC staff. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

For now, it shows Georgia Power is likely to shelve aspirations to own and operate a 1,000-megawatt energy storage system (ESS) to complement its growing fleet of solar projects. Georgia Power had said the system was needed to store excess energy to deploy when the sun isn’t shining, but it appears the parties concluded the costs of the larger system were too high.

“While the Stipulating Parties acknowledge the potential value of ESS to the reliability of the electric system, the costs of ESS should be taken into account relative to any benefits provided,” the agreement reads.

PSC staff and Georgia Power agreed to move forward with a smaller 265-megawatt battery storage facility,

In its initial plans filed with the PSC, Georgia Power asked for permission to close all of its remaining coal units by the end of 2028, with the exception of two units at Plant Bowen near Cartersville.

Now, the final sunset dates for two other coal units at Plant Bowen will likely be left up to the commission to decide. Based on the agreement, the units would be shut down sometime between December 2027 and the end of 2035 as the commissioners see fit.

ExploreGeorgia Power’s ‘risky’ coal ash plan comes under fire during hearing

The agreement also approves the closures of the remaining coal units at Plant Wansley in West Georgia by the end of August, a move that could affect the company’s plans for storing the remaining coal ash on the site.

In testimony filed earlier this year, two of Georgia Power’s environmental executives said that if regulators approved the closures at Plant Wansley, it would allow the company to remove the coal ash from an on-site landfill and put it to “beneficial use,” rather than capping the material in place as previously planned. However, to the displeasure of many environmental groups and others concerned about drinking water contamination, Georgia Power is still planning to leave much of its coal ash around the state in unlined pits.

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Joe McClain, left, and Mike Harris, right, install solar panels on the roof of a home in Ball Ground, Georgia on December 17th, 2021.

Joe McClain, left, and Mike Harris, right, install solar panels on the roof of a home in Ball Ground, Georgia on December 17th, 2021.

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Joe McClain, left, and Mike Harris, right, install solar panels on the roof of a home in Ball Ground, Georgia on December 17th, 2021.

Notably absent from the new agreement was any mention of the rooftop solar net metering pilot program.

That pilot program was created in 2019 and allowed property owners with rooftop solar to dramatically lower their energy bills. But it was capped at just 5,000 participants, and it filled up last summer.

Frustrated homeowners, solar installers and environmental advocates have all called on the PSC and Georgia Power to expand the program, but that now seems doubtful.

The next round of hearings on the company’s future plans will be held next week and the commission is scheduled to issue a final decision in July.