In Savannah June 20, Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols hosted an event titled “Wind Energy, Will it Work for Georgia?” Based on the dozens of stakeholders present and expert presentations given, here are 11 reasons why wind energy will, and does, work for Georgia.
1. Wind energy is cost-competitive with other energy sources and prices continue to drop.
Wind energy is extremely cheap. For new wind farms installed last year in the Plains, prices reached $21 per megawatt hour (MWh). That’s effectively two cents per kilowatt hour ($0.021/kWh) (for reference, the average residential price of electricity in Georgia is a little over 11 cents/kWh). While there are technical and other limitations that make it unlikely for Georgia to get wind power at this low of a cost, wind power prices have been steadily dropping since 2008 and will continue to drop over time. How do prices from wind energy out West relate to wind energy for Georgia? You’ll find that answer in #2.
2. New transmission can expand Georgia’s opportunities to receive wind energy from the Plains.
Wind energy from the Plains will make its way to Georgia next year. The news became official late last month, when the Georgia Public Service Commission unanimously approved the state’s first wind farm proposal. Georgia Power is entering into two long-term contracts for the purchase of 250 megawatts of power from wind farms in Oklahoma, enough to power over 50,000 homes. The main decision to approve these contracts stems from the extremely low cost of energy for ratepayers. This follows a trend of purchasing wind energy from the Plains with Alabama Power and Tennessee Valley Authority both making similar contract agreements to bring cost-effective wind energy into the region. If purchased electricity for wind energy remains low cost and accessible via transmission, we should expect to see additional agreements from Georgia Power in the near future.
During the recent event in Savannah, Diana Rivera, from Clean Line Energy Partners, featured the company’s Plains and Eastern project, which will deliver wind resources from the West to Southern states. With the construction of a new transmission line, this project will have the capacity to deliver 3,500 megawatts of wind energy to the South.
3. New turbine technology is better able to capture low-wind energy resources.
In areas traditionally viewed as having a low wind resource, newer, taller turbines are opening access to faster and more stable winds higher off the ground. Modern turbines reaching, 500 feet tall (150 meters), make wind energy a more viable option for Georgia. Taller turbines provide higher capacity factors for wind turbines which increase electricity output and produce lower electricity prices from wind energy. The NREL figure below confirms what many wind developers have privately known for several years – Georgia’s wind resources are better than previously thought.
4. Georgia Power is exploring small-scale wind energy opportunities through a wind demonstration project.
Last summer, as part of Georgia Power’s recent Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), the Public Service Commission approved a small wind turbine demonstration pilot project that will measure the state’s land-based wind resource and compare different turbine technologies. Ervan Hancock, Manager of Renewable and Green Strategies for Georgia Power, described this project in more detail at the recent event in Savannah. Georgia Power, in partnership with Georgia Southern University, will deploy 5 small-scale turbines across the state. Currently, they have narrowed the locations down to 10 sites. Hancock predicts that the turbines will be installed by mid-2015.
5. Coastal and offshore wind energy can act as a peaking resource.
Offshore wind energy could supply cost effective electricity for high electrical demand across the Southeast during the summertime. A recent report published by SACE shows that Georgia’s offshore wind resources are positively correlated with peak electricity demand hours in summer months because of the sea breeze effect. Replacing peaking generation, which can be very expensive, with a zero-fuel-cost resource like offshore wind may be able to reduce ratepayer costs. Cape Wind, the nation’s first proposed offshore wind farm, is expected to save customers in New England $25 million annually by reducing the use of expensive power plants.
6. Georgia has a tremendous offshore wind energy resource–enough power to provide one-third of the state’s current electrical needs.
A study from Geo-Marine, Inc. indicates that Georgia has about 14.5 gigawatts of feasibly developable offshore wind energy potential–enough to meet about about a third of Georgia’s annual electricity needs at today’s consumption rates. Shallow seas and strong breezes help reduce the costs associated with building offshore wind farms in Georgia. According to the Energy Information Association (EIA), Southeastern states (including Georgia) are some of the lowest cost construction sites for offshore wind compared to the rest of the country. Developing our offshore wind potential would mean big economic benefits to the state, including job creation in the construction, manufacturing, transportation, logistics, and shipping industries.
7. Georgia stakeholders are already working together to prepare for the offshore wind industry.
The event in Savannah featured the Georgia Coastal and Marine Planning (GCAMP) team, a partnership between Georgia Tech, Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). GCAMP is working to uncover key policies and planning needed to move offshore wind energy forward in the state. The team is performing research that will prepare Georgia for offshore wind energy development through coordinating with federal regulatory agencies and facilitating the state’s management of coastal and ocean resources. Additionally, GCAMP is providing online access to data regarding coastal and ocean resources through Georgia Tech’s center for Geographic Information Systems (GIS). You can check out the Georgia and Coastal Marine Planner here.
8. Georgia Power is moving forward to study offshore wind energy resources.
Georgia Power is pursuing the installation of equipment to study the offshore wind energy resource off the coast of Tybee Island. Before installing the equipment, Georgia must finalize the lease on the offshore area, the details of which are in the process of being worked out. Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) declared that the project would have no significant environmental impact, a key regulatory hurdle that must be overcome before the lease can be awarded. If the environmental assessment by BOEM is finalized, Southern Company may be permitted to install “a meteorological tower and/or up to two buoys for data collection.” Casey Reeves, Project Coordinator for BOEM, spoke via phone to attendees during the recent event in Savannah, stated that the lease will hopefully be available this year. The lease and data collection could continue for up to five years. Georgia Power’s Ervan Hancock predicts that in a best case scenario the study will be completed by 2020.
9. Wind energy would greatly conserve water for the state.
Georgia, a state that is prone to droughts and water wars between neighboring states, would greatly benefit from reducing its water consumption for electricity generation. Most thermal power plants, like coal and nuclear power plants, withdraw and consume large quantities of fresh water. Wind farms, like solar photovoltaic panels, do not use water to generate power. Developing 1,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity could reduce water consumption by 1.6 billion gallons per year by replacing water-intensive power plants.
10. Wind energy would help Georgia Power to comply with EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
Through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently proposed Clean Power Plan the U.S. will seek to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. Wind energy, with no polluting air emissions, is a hugely important resource as the state continues to look for opportunities to lower CO2 emissions.
11. Wind energy is already working for Georgia.
While Georgia has yet to develop a wind farm, the state is already benefiting from wind farms across the country. The Peach State is currently home to over 20 wind energy component manufacturing facilities serving the domestic and international wind industry markets. In 2013, there were between 101 and 500 direct and indirect jobs provided by the wind industry in Georgia. In addition, the Port of Savannah’s Ocean Terminal is an important transportation hub for wind energy equipment. With the Southern region now ripe for large-scale wind energy development and Georgia’s manufacturing sector continuing to grow, we hope to see an increase in wind energy jobs in the state.