Georgia's utility regulators approved a long-term plan that will see Georgia Power drastically expand renewable generation and develop, own and operate up to 80 megawatts of energy storage.

The final 2019 integrated resource plan calls for 2,260 megawatts of new capacity from wind, solar and biomass, which will bring those resources up to 22 percent of the utility's overall fleet capacity. Separately, the Southern Company-owned utility will invest in five hydropower projects while shutting five coal-powered units and all 29 coal ash ponds.

"We are positioning Georgia as a leader in the Southeast in battery energy storage, which is critical to growing and maximizing the value of renewable energy for customers as we increase our renewable generation by 72 percent by 2024," said Allen Reaves, Georgia Power's senior vice president and senior production officer, in a statement.

Indeed, Southeastern states have seen exceedingly little energy storage development so far, although utilities like Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light have announced significant investments for the coming years.

But if the final plan confers on Georgia Power the status of regional leadership, the company's original proposal aspired to something less than that.

When the utility filed its draft proposal in January, it only sought 1,000 megawatts of new renewables. As the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy quipped at the time, "Georgia Power’s new resource plan would have been considered bold nine years ago, but this plan is behind the times."

The regional clean energy advocacy group added that the proposed addition would be less than the renewables approved in the 2016 integrated resource plan, even though solar prices had dropped significantly since then.

The original proposal similarly asked for less storage: 50 megawatts, either standalone or solar-adjacent, "to evaluate the technical and economic performance relative to expectations." 

Stakeholder intervention over the last half year succeeded in pushing the targets up to the final outcome. 

"Intervenors made a difference through testimony," said Daniel Tait, research and communications manager for the Southeast at utility watchdog Energy and Policy Institute. "With the information that intervenors put forward, their modeling and their testimony, it’s becoming increasingly clear how cost-competitive renewables and increasingly storage are in Georgia."

Battery storage technology, which performs rapid-fire grid services as well as storing renewable power for use during peak hours, has proven appealing to a geographically diverse set of constituents: the solar-heavy California grid, the desert utilities of Arizona, the winter-storm-blown states of the Northeast. The 80-megawatt commitment cues up a new and significant market for the rapidly growing storage industry.

"We are not a nation of red states and blue states — we are a nation of energy storage states," observed Daniel Finn-Foley, an energy storage analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

The agreement stipulates that Georgia Power will pick battery vendors and engineering, procurement and construction services through competitive processes. It will seek regulators' approval on each demonstration project before building it.

Regulated utilities in the Southeast have shown a keen interest in building and owning their own storage. Indeed, competition for regional leadership in the storage arena has heated up, with Duke Energy's commitment to 300 megawatts in the Carolinas by 2033 and FP&L's enormous 409-megawatt project, due online by the end of 2021.

"Eighty megawatts of storage would have made a major headline a few years ago," Finn-Foley noted.

The other major pillar of the long-range plan, energy efficiency, did not spur similarly groundbreaking updates. The utility highlighted a few items in its announcement, including a pilot program to help 500 income-qualified customers save money on their bills. That program is still being finalized.