What’s Georgia Power asking for?
Late last month, Georgia Power published a “request for information” on its website, inviting respondents to submit details before Oct. 24 about electricity generating assets they could provide to meet “greater capacity needs” revealed by the company’s current projections.
Georgia Power’s request says it is interested in new electricity sources that could enter service between 2026 and 2030. That’s much earlier than the 2029 to 2031 timeframe referenced in the company’s energy roadmap approved by state regulators last year.
In that plan, the company forecast it would need around 3,700 megawatts of new capacity to meet the demand it expects in the winter of 2031. That’s more than triple the capacity of one of the new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta.
The notice filed last week by Georgia Power did not specify how much extra capacity it is interested in acquiring, and the company did not divulge specific needs to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
What energy sources are they interested in?
Georgia Power’s need is for “firm capacity,” according to the request, meaning sources that can generate electricity around the clock.
The notice lists three technologies of interest: gas-powered plants, massive batteries known as energy storage systems (ESS) and energy storage systems paired with a renewable resource.
In Georgia, the most likely renewable partner to pair with an ESS is solar, which can charge the battery when the sun is out for use later.
Georgia Power is already planning to add some battery capacity to its system — roughly 765 megawatts — according to the plan approved last year by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC).
Why is Georgia Power doing this now?
The answer is unclear.
Georgia Power did not directly respond to a question about what’s driving its interest in new capacity. It also did not provide the new growth projections cited in its request.
The company’s all-time record for electricity demand was nearly 18,000 megawatts, set during a brutal heatwave in the summer of 2007. Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said the company’s current total system capacity is approximately 22,000 megawatts.
Kraft said Georgia Power is “committed to maintaining high reliability for all of our customers every day,” and added that it will work with the PSC to evaluate the need for more electricity resources.
PSC Chairman Jason Shaw, one of the five commissioners who would be tasked with approving or tweaking any proposal from Georgia Power to add capacity, said Tuesday that he expects Georgia Power’s formal request soon.
Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlant
Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlant
Huge factories under construction in the state, like Hyundai’s Metaplant near Savannah and the planned Rivian electric vehicle plant east of Atlanta, are main drivers of the new demand, he said.
Shaw also said Winter Storm Elliott, which brought days of dangerous cold to Georgia and much of the U.S. last Christmas, was a wakeup call. A recent federal report found 13% of all power assets in the Eastern U.S. were knocked offline by the cold snap at various points, though Georgia Power did not have to use rolling blackouts to protect the grid.
Is the timing of this request unusual?
Yes, but it’s not unprecedented.
Traditionally, Georgia Power has pitched its long-term energy plans to the PSC for approval every three years. The company’s most recent plan was approved just last summer and the company wasn’t scheduled to bring a new case to regulators until 2025.
PSC staff said the company has occasionally made requests for additional resources in the middle of a planning cycle, but that it only happens about every 10 years.
What else should I know?
Some environmental groups and clean energy advocates say the company’s apparent interest in adding more natural gas capacity is disconcerting.
Earth just endured its hottest summer on record, and early data shows that global temperatures in September may have shattered records by an even greater margin. The burning of fossil fuels, like natural gas and coal, are the main contributors to global warming.
“Any added capacity must be clean and renewable, not an expansion of natural gas infrastructure or other polluting energy sources,” said Codi Norred, the executive director of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light.
Meanwhile, Georgia Power has struggled to add the solar capacity to its system that the commission has already approved. After issuing a request for proposals last year, the company so far has failed to fill any of the 1,030 megawatts of solar it was seeking to bring online in 2023 and 2024. An earlier request for bids also fell 230 megawatts short of its goal.
In a PSC meeting on Sept. 28, Steven Hewitson, an attorney for Georgia Power, attributed the company’s solar struggles — in part — to supply chain constraints and rising costs that made it difficult for developers to craft competitive bids.
The PSC has since approved changes to its solar programs, which Georgia Power has said should solve some of those problems.
The company has also fought off billing changes proposed for customers with solar panels on their roof. Clean energy advocates have argued that increasing the credits solar customers receive for their excess electricity would allow more households to slash their bills and lower demand for Georgia Power’s electrons.
If Georgia Power adds new resources, it is likely ratepayers will foot the bill, but the cost isn’t clear.
Any increase would add to a mountain of recent rate hikes to pay for Plant Vogtle, power plant fuel and more. All told, residential customers that use 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month were already likely to see their monthly bills go up by $45 by 2025, according Southern Environmental Law Center estimates.
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