Georgia Power has just joined other southern electric utilities by announcing a decision to buy wind energy. If the Georgia Public Service Commission agrees to the deal, the Peach State will be receiving up to 250 megawatts of wind power – enough power for about 50,000 Georgia homes – from Oklahoma around the 2016 time frame. In doing so, Georgia Power will follow in the footsteps of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Alabama Power and the Southwestern Electric Power Company in buying wind energy from the midwest.
But, out of all of those purchases, Georgia Power’s purchase represents the smallest total amount of wind energy. For example, TVA’s wind power supplies over 1,500 megawatts of power – enough to power about half a million homes. SWEPCO has agreements for over 469 megawatts – or about 150,000 homes. Meanwhile, Alabama Power is buying up to 404 megawatts of power. In an unusual twist, Alabama Power requested from that state’s Public Service Commission to purchase up to 202 megawatts of power – but the PSC came back and said the company could buy twice that amount. Mostly because wind power is the cheapest new generation they could get.To get the wind from Oklahoma to Georgia will be no easy task. Existing transmission lines can be used to shuffle the power around; however, the electricity will likely have to go through at least two separate grid regions. Each grid region the power moves through incurs more cost. You can avoid some of these costs by building high voltage direct current transmission lines from the midwest, or by building wind power locally. But, because the winds blow so hard in the midwest, and because new turbine technology more efficiently collects wind, these additional transmission costs make it worth it. New wind farms in the middle of the country can achieve capacity factors in excess of 50% which is a comparable figure to some combined cycle natural gas power plants. Wind farms may generate electricity that costs around $30-$40 per megawatt over their 25 year lifespan – a considerable hedge against potential rises in fossil fuel costs.
Because wind energy is so cheap, clean and available, Georgia Power shouldn’t rest on its laurels – 250 megawatts is good, but more must be done. The Georgia Public Service Commission should follow in the footsteps of Alabama and encourage Georgia Power to buy at least twice as much wind.