Georgia Power, the state’s biggest electricity supplier, is planning to build three 30-megawatt PV solar installations for the U.S. Army for a remarkably low cost.

The Army’s Georgia 3x30 initiative will build installations at Fort Stewart, Fort Gordon and Fort Benning. The forts will supply land for the arrays and distribution lines. The Army will be the offtaker through an existing contract with Georgia Power.

The utility will work with the U.S. Army Energy Initiatives Task Force to get the solar into commercial operation before the end of 2016. The projects will bring the renewables share of the Army’s Georgia energy consumption to 18 percent.

More importantly, the utility sees the projects as “cost-effective,” according to Renewable Development VP Norrie McKenzie. “The three projects will be brought on-line at or below the company’s avoided cost, the amount it is estimated to cost the company to generate comparable energy from other sources.”

“That’s a big deal, especially deep in coal country,” said Vote Solar Executive Director Adam Browning. 

Solar advocates see this partnership between Georgia Power and the Army as particularly important given the Georgia Public Service Commission's recent approval of the Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative. In that proceeding, commissioners accepted a levelized avoided cost for solar of $0.09 per kilowatt-hour over a 20-year term.

“This validates the solar value proposition in Georgia,” said Jason Rooks, director of government affairs for the Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association. "And, because it will put no upward pressure on rates, there will not be the cost-shift or cross-subsidy that solar opponents are always talking about."

Georgia Power will eventually be “the single biggest owner of solar panels in the state,” Rooks added, and “the leading solar utility in non-RPS states.”

The Army Task Force is currently working on solar projects in Alabama, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland and New York, and it just broke ground at Arizona’s Fort Huachuca on an 18-megawatt PV array.

Developer E.ON Climate and Renewables will build the Arizona array on Fort Huachuca land. Tucson Electric Power will finance, operate and maintain the project, which is expected to be operational by early 2015. The Army will be the offtaker, through an existing contract with TEP.

The DOD’s annual $20 billion energy budget makes it the single largest consumer of energy in the world. USC 2911 of DOD’s title 10 Energy Performance Goals, as updated in 2009, requires 25 percent of total military facility energy consumption to come from renewable energy sources by 2025.

Driven by that budget and that target, numerous projects and initiatives have been in motion:

  • The Navy has installed more than 58 megawatts of renewable capacity at or near bases in Washington, D.C. and twelve states. It also has plans to obtain 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025, 57 percent of which will be solar.
  • The Air Force has built 38 megawatts of solar capacity in twenty-four states and will procure 70 percent of its total planned 1 gigawatt of renewables from PV. 
  • The Army has installed more than 36 megawatts of solar at bases in sixteen states on its way to procuring 1 gigawatt of renewable capacity, a third of which will be PV.

Solar deals like these “are transforming the energy realities -- and future possibilities -- in the United States,” said Vote Solar's Browning. "They show how solar's appeal to values of self-reliance and energy security is throwing the door wide open.”

“This is 90 megawatts of cost-effective homegrown solar in a state that had 8 megawatts of installed capacity in 2011,” Rooks said. “It will serve the very real electricity needs of the U.S. Army, which shows that Georgia solar is ready to serve the needs of other energy customers.”