For a long time large-scale solar PV in the United States was the domain of California and the U.S. Southwest. And while significant distributed PV markets cropped up in Northeast, with New Jersey and Massachusetts leading the way, the South – states south of the Mason-Dixon line – was seen as largely off-limits.
This has changed over the last few years. North Carolina has blossomed into the nation’s second-largest market, and Georgia has also seen significant developments. Yesterday the state’s largest utility, Georgia Power, announced that it has reached 846 MW of solar resources in operation.
This includes “hundreds of MW” of solar projects built by third party developers under Georgia Power’s Advanced Solar Initiative (ASI), from which Georgia Power buys power under long-term contracts. In addition to these, in 2016 the utility added four new PV projects on U.S. military bases in the state totaling 120 MW, including a PV plant at U.S. Army Fort Benning.
The utility has walked a fine line. As subsidiary of utility giant Southern Company, Georgia Power is also heavily invested in nuclear power. Additionally, the way that Georgia Power talks about its solar investments reflect the different thinking about solar in the heavily Republican Deep South.
“We continue to focus on introducing new products, services and programs that bring renewable energy to our state without putting upward pressure on rates and ensuring 24/7 reliability for customers,” said Georgia Power VP of Renewable Development Norrie McKenzie.
Last summer Georgia Power reached a deal with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, under which the utility plans to build and procure 1.6 GW of renewable energy by 2021. Given the poor land-based wind resources in Georgia and the rest of the Deep South and competitive prices for PV versus biomass, it is likely that the large majority of this will be solar.
Outside of Georgia Power’s service area, the state’s rural electric cooperatives are also actively procuring solar PV.