Southern Power explains creation of solar power to Rotary Club

Published 5:23 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Renee Nickles, a coordinator with Southern Power, presented the program on solar power and the role of Southern Power in the process of converting solar power for use of companies including Georgia Power customers.

She described Southern Power as an unregulated wholesale provider of electricity.

Serving nine states, it has 35 facilities, over 390 employees and generates power three ways. It uses biomass, solar and wind processes to generate over 10,500 million watts of electricity. The power is converted to A/C and sent to the Georgia Power substation that serves their customers.

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It then contracts with such customers as Georgia Power, Alabama Power, Gulf Power and Mississippi Power.

Nickles used a video presentation to illustrate the different types of solar power farms and spoke of the two Decatur County solar plants where they have contracts.

When a solar project is proposed, Southern Power bids on the job, along with other companies.

The panels can be fixed tilt, where the panels are placed close together and remain immobile, or single axis tracking panels that rotate north and south, with row spaces farther apart. There is also dual axis tracking that rotates east-west and north-south, according to the position of the sun. She admits that cloudy days can be a challenge.

She said the Decatur Parkway site is 779 acres of land and generates 120 megawatts of power. The second site near the airport is a 159 acre site that generates 84 megawatts.

Nickels said it is a win for farmers, as the land where solar panels are placed is leased from them in 25 year contracts.

Installation of the solar panels is labor intensive, but once they are up and operating, they are monitored daily, require vegetation and pest control management, as well as cleaning and washing of the panels. They now have three full-time employees performing the daily oversight for the two sites.

Nickels said their full-time employees are typically required to have previous experience with electrical circuitry and technology. They look to the technical schools when hiring. As they do all the compliance work, they receive ongoing education to keep them up to date on the latest technology.

In answer to questions about comparative costs, it was pointed out that once you get past the cost of installation, the sun is free fuel, not free power.