By Maurice Carter, Sustainable Newton President
In regularly scheduled meetings Monday night, the city councils of Covington and Oxford each voted to approve solar power purchase contracts (SPPCs) with the Municipal Electric Association of Georgia (MEAG). Covington will purchase up to 15 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity through MEAG's 80 MW solar initiative scheduled to come online in 2023. Oxford will commit to 4 MW.
This initiative marks the first time MEAG has included a utility-scale solar offering in its power portfolio. The association -- which serves 49 municipal electric companies in Georgia -- will contract with a third party vendor to construct and operate an 80 MW solar farm in south Georgia. MEAG will resell the solar-sourced electricity (and associated renewable energy credits) to cities participating in the project.
The actual capacity Covington and Oxford receive will depend on the total purchase commitments received from all eligible municipal electric companies. If requests exceed the 80 MW capacity of the project, then each interested city will receive a reduced allocation based on their percentage of the total requested.
In presenting the MEAG proposal to City Council Monday night, Covington Electric Director Joel Smith positioned the solar opportunity as an important step for achieving the city's goal of 90% emissions-free electricity by 2045. According to Smith, Covington plans sell the new solar capacity exclusively to large industrial customers via a Renewable Energy Customer Agreement (RECA), giving those large customers the opportunity to meet sustainability objectives and comply with corporate mandates. One existing Covington customer has already expressed interest in purchasing 50% of Covington's solar capacity under the agreement.
Oxford plans to add the additional electricity to their grid, serving all customers.
Sustainable Newton supporters may recall our MEAG cities (Covington, Oxford, and Mansfield) posed special challenges during our 2019-20 Solarize Newton-Morgan campaign -- due to the standby capacity fee MEAG encouraged those cities to adopt as a hedge against revenue loss from rooftop solar. The Oxford City Council ultimately voted to rescind their standby fee, and Covington voted to reduce (but not eliminate) theirs.
In 2019, MEAG had no publicly announced plans for a solar, and you could not even find the word "solar" anywhere on their website. These solar power purchase contracts with MEAG are a very big step forward in just two short years.
Sustainable Newton remains committed to working with local officials in each of our cities to remove barriers to rooftop solar and to even provide incentives (such as net metering, time of use rate plans, etc.). But, rooftop solar alone will not reduce greenhouse gas emission sufficiently to address the climate crisis. We've aligned our climate action plans with Drawdown Georgia, and utility-scale solar is a big part of that plan.
For the Electricity solution sector, Drawdown Georgia has set the following statewide targets for 2030:
During our solarize campaign, consultants estimated the 85 kW of rooftop solar installed through the campaign would mean 159,460 pounds less carbon being emitted into the atmosphere each year. Extrapolating that formula, 19 MW of utility-scale solar will result in roughly 35.6 million pounds (or 16,202 metric tons) less carbon emissions annually from electricity generation for our two cities. This stuff adds up!
We are grateful to MEAG for taking this important initiative and proud of our elected officials and city staffs in Covington and Oxford for stepping up in a big way! May this only be the beginning of even bigger things to come!!