LOCUST GROVE --- A coalition of Georgia electricity producers and distributors will receive a $249 million federal grant to add transmission lines, battery storage and build resilience to power outages, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced on Wednesday during a visit to the state.
The federal Department of Energy (DOE) awarded grants to 58 projects in 44 states on Wednesday, and the one heading to Georgia is the third-largest of the bunch. The money comes from a $3.5 billion pot of funding included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by President Joe Biden in 2021, which the agency said is the single-largest investment ever made in modernizing the nation’s power grid.
Flanked by a maze of transformers, capacitors and transmission lines at a power substation outside Locust Grove, 35 miles southeast of Atlanta, Granholm said the country’s electric infrastructure — its “suit of chainmail armor” — is in desperate need of replacing.
“These poles, these wires, this system needs a lot of TLC,” Granholm said. “So we’re going to make this chainmail stronger: We’re going to add more links and we’re going to replace the ones that need replacing.”
Credit: Ben Gray
Credit: Ben Gray
In Georgia, the funding to make that happen will go to a group that includes the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) and its partners Oglethorpe Power, Georgia Transmission, Georgia System Operations and Green Power EMC. Oglethorpe and their partners serve 38 not-for-profit electric membership corporations (EMCs) who provide electricity to more than 4.4 million Georgians.
Oglethorpe and the family of companies are investing an additional $257 million in the project, bringing the total money available for upgrades to $507 million.
Much of the money will go toward bolstering grid resilience to power outages caused by extreme weather. Many of those hazards — from hurricanes to heatwaves — are growing more intense and destructive due to human-caused climate change.
Barbara Hampton, the CEO of Georgia Transmission — a cooperative that owns thousands of miles of power lines and more than 750 substations — said the federal funding will help reduce the frequency and impact of outages, especially in underserved areas.
“These grant dollars and the ability they provide us to deploy innovative technologies makes reliability and resiliency possible in these areas,” Hampton said.
The money will also aid the state’s increasing reliance on solar for electricity.
Like other electricity providers in Georgia, Oglethorpe Power is turning to the sun more to generate electricity. But that shift has its challenges.
Solar is an intermittent source that only produces electrons when the sun is shining, so storing excess power to use later at times of peak demand is critical for reliability. Most large solar installations are in South Georgia, while most of the demand for electricity lies in population centers in the northern half of the state. Getting electrons to the areas that need them is a challenge that utilities have said will require investments in new transmission lines, plus batteries to store electricity.
To better integrate solar into its system, Oglethorpe Power plans to add three large-scale battery storage systems — each with a capacity of 25 megawatts — to its fleet around the Metro Atlanta area.
Granholm’s visit Wednesday was her second trip in recent months to Georgia, which has emerged as a key player in the Biden administration’s plan to transition the economy to clean energy and electrify the nation’s automobile fleet. Massive electric vehicle plants from Hyundai and Rivian are under construction, and on Monday, the solar manufacturer Qcells announced it has completed the first phase of its expansion in Georgia.
Granholm said those projects are evidence that the tools the Biden administration is providing to accelerate the U.S. economy’s transition to clean energy — like lucrative tax incentives and grants — are working.
“We are in the trenches together to fight for America’s clean energy future and I think in the fight, we are winning,” she said.
Note of disclosure
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