Support sought to boost solar energy

ATLANTA --- Georgia Power Co. is among the country's largest producers of coal-fired electricity, but it's also looking for some partners to supply a little solar energy.


That's because regulators require it for the company's "green power" program in which customers volunteer to pay a premium for part of their power to come from renewable sources.

The 5-year-old program has about 4,400 of the company's 2.3 million customers signed up, and Georgia Power needs 80 megawatt hours of juice for them.

Until now, most of the green power has come from methane gas that a DeKalb County landfill would have to burn off otherwise for safety reasons.

The company will soon be producing much more of its own renewable energy from biomass.

It is converting one of its oldest coal-fired generators, Plant Mitchell, to burn wood byproducts, which will result in 96 megawatts of green power.

Even customers who don't want to pay extra -- about $3.50 per month -- will get some of the green power from Plant Mitchell. But much of it will be assigned to commercial accounts and one-time events such as an environmentally conscious rock star who insists on renewable energy for a concert.

Why not put all of the plant's output into the program?

"The company wants to promote the expansion of other, more expensive, renewable options," company spokeswoman Lynn Wallace said.

Plus, Georgia Power still needs solar to comply with the Georgia Public Service Commission.

If you're interested, submit your bid for supplying solar or other renewal-source electricity by June 30.

Some environmentalists who pushed for the voluntary green-power program as a first step say they now want a federal requirement that up to a quarter of all electricity generated come from renewable sources.

They complain that Georgia Power's parent, Southern Company, is fighting in Congress against the standard.

"People need to understand that this utility company is not serious about renewable potential," said Stephen Smith, the executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Ms. Wallace responded that the company opposes a national minimum because the Southeast isn't ideal for large production of most renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal.

"We believe that a one-size-fits-all national mandate really disadvantages the part of the country that doesn't have all the resources," she said.