Atlanta City Officials Pursue Leasing City Land for Solar Farms
(APN) ATLANTA — The City of Atlanta is seeking to team up with Georgia Power on a potential project that could turn closed city-owned landfills and additional land at the airport into solar farms.
Under a proposed agreement, the City would lease land to New Generation Power, Inc., who would cover the costs associated with designing, installing, maintaining, operating, and replacing the solar panels on each site with a twenty year lease and the option of a five year renewal.
The City’s proposal is being submitted to Georgia Power as part of the company’s current Request for Proposals as part of the company’s Advanced Solar Initiative.
The project is up for selection through a lottery system implemented via Georgia Power’s ASI utility scale program, which will bring 425 megawatts of power to the state through solar developers.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the Georgia Public Service Commission approved ASI in 2012, and later expanded it in 2013 to include an additional 100 megawatts through a distributed generation program that allows Georgia Power customers to sell solar back to the company through smaller scale power purchase agreements.
Under the ASI, Georgia Power’s total energy portfolio should be 1.5 percent solar by 2017.
If Georgia Power selects the City’s proposal, it will be part of the 1.5 percent already planned for; it will not represent any additional solar power in the statewide portfolio.
“As an office we see this as a great program in that it support clean energy and it’s also an opportunity to create some clean tech jobs,” Denise Quarles, Director of the city’s Office of Sustainability, told APN. Quarles says it is too soon to estimate how many jobs will be created.
Environmental advocates say the City’s involvement is a step in the right direction.
“The landfill work is a great step in the right direction. It’s not just Atlanta, cities around the southeast are not driving solar as much as they could,” Jeanette Gayer, Director of Environment Georgia, told APN. “We would love to see Atlanta be a real leader in the Southeast in municipal, city-focused programs to drive solar.”
The City has identified the Cascade Road Landfill, Key Road Landfill, and the Gun Club Road Landfill, as well as airport land, as potential locations. Georgia Power is set to decide the results of the lottery by May 02, 2014.
The decision marks a change in tone on the issue of solar from some city officials who have criticized solar in the past.
APN raised the issue of solar panels on city property in 2012 to the City Utilities Committee, chaired by City Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong (District 5).
Archibong, who supported the idea, asked the city’s Office of Sustainability, at the time, if solar had been considered. In a response dated September 20, 2012, Quarles said the City had investigated but ultimately rejected the ideas of both solar panels and solar water heating.
“Our detailed analysis of solar opportunities for municipal use, given the 3 factors: Cost, Return on Investment (ROI), and projected energy savings/generation for our building portfolio, does not prove to be a valuable investment of the city’s resources,” Quarles wrote at the time
Now, Quarles says that with little liability for the city in the leasing agreement, the ASI proposal is a low-risk way for the City to promote solar, while prices for the technology continue to decrease. In the meantime, the City will be generating revenue from leasing the sites.
“Solar has continued to become more and more competitive from a pricing standpoint. The project is not requiring us to put up any capital for this project,” Quarles recently told APN. “As a municipality we are always looking at all the opportunity, so as solar becomes much more economical–and again the numbers have definitely been moving in the right direction year after year–we are going to continue to look at opportunities.”
Looking forward, solar supporters say eliminating red tape in city offices is the next step for making solar more accessible
“If we’re going to be 100 percent in the line of having more and more solar power capacity in our City, we’re going to have to look at some zoning and permitting issues. I want to take that on to make it possible, affordable, and make sure there’s a known pathway,” Councilwoman Archibong told APN. “We need to step up our game and make sure we are ready to support the direction we need to move into for the greater good.”
Gayer, who released a report in 2013 urging the city to meet a goal of ten percent solar by 2030 and outlining a path forward, agrees that permitting needs to be made easier, and says solar should be available to all consumers.
“Can we make sure that permitting for solar is straightforward? Can we create a bulk solar purchasing program so people can ban together with their neighbors to buy solar more affordably? There’s a lot of things the City could start doing,” Gayer said.
“The coalition that we’ve built on this issue is focused on energy as an equity issue. We don’t want solar to just be something that people who are very wealthy can do. If you look around the country that’s not how solar is playing out. Everyone in the city can appreciate the benefits. We are cognizant of that and the City Council is cognizant of that.”