Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Technology Drives Future Plans at Southern Co.'s Biggest Utility

The view of Plant Vogtle expansion from the highest point of Unit 3's Turbine Island (Credit: chronicle.augusta.com) Click to Enlarge.
Southern Co. once called natural gas a "dominant solution" as its electric companies were transitioning away from coal.

Now, nuclear is joining in as a chief option for cleaner electricity, officials say.

Southern's Georgia Power Co. subsidiary said it is keeping nuclear on the menu of options for baseload electricity in the future in its latest long-term energy plan filed late Friday afternoon.  While that seemed like a relatively mundane comment for a utility that is building twin reactors, comments from company officials signal a higher priority.
Nuclear will be able to serve as an emissions-free source of baseload power and will diversify Georgia Power's fuel base beyond natural gas, the company said in its integrated resource plan (IRP).  To be clear, it will be years before any new reactors will be built, and it's unclear what advanced form they could take.

"With the reality of carbon regulation, and the likelihood that new coal generation in Georgia is not a feasible option for the indefinite future, the company must continue to be proactive in its consideration of future nuclear as a viable baseload option," Georgia Power said in the lengthy document.

The company's comments and discussion in the IRP reinforce Georgia Power and Southern's stance that the United States will build more nuclear power in some form.  Southern recently made two announcements about working on new nuclear technology, one of which includes joining "SMR Start," a consortium of utilities, energy and technology companies working to commercialize small modular reactors.

Separately, Southern's nuclear unit received a $40 million grant from the Energy Department to develop advanced reactor technologies.
IRP stirs up enviros
As expected, clean energy advocates railed against what they consider to be the electric company's failure to seize opportunities to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency.

"Although Georgia Power has touted the benefits that renewables offer to its customers, the company is proposing to throttle back on the growth of its successful renewable energy program that propelled Georgia forward as a solar leader," said the Sierra Club's Georgia Chapter and local officials for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in a joint statement.

"Instead, the company will continue prioritizing old, dirty and expensive coal-fired power plants to meet any future demand for electricity and flat-line energy efficiency programs that help families save money," it said.

Georgia Power has the groundwork from which to build.  The company boasts a plan to have 1 gigawatt of utility-scale solar on the grid by the year's end.  EPA's Clean Power Plan is giving a boost to renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, too, clean energy advocates argue.

Criticisms aside, Georgia Power dedicates more than 50 pages to renewable energy and advanced technology options, signaling that changes are afoot.  This is a stark difference from the company's 2013 IRP, which had no plans to add renewable energy or capacity of any kind.

Read  more at Technology Drives Future Plans at Southern Co.'s Biggest Utility

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