BiS: BusinessInSavannah.com - Business news for the creative coast.

Georgia Power backs out, but Savannah solar farm still a go

  • A solar farm is planned for the southwest portion of this parcel fronting East President Street. The community solar will cover 7 acres that were once part of Savannah’s Deptford Landfill. Screenshot from SAGIS.

Georgia Power pulled the plug at the last minute on its involvement in a solar project on East President Street. But the site will get a solar installation anyway, said developer Reed Dulany III.

“I was furious last night,” Dulany said Thursday. “Yesterday at 3:30 I got a call from three Georgia Power people saying ‘Hey, the project’s off.’”

At issue is a 1 megawatt community solar project planned for the site of a former city dump on East President Street. Dulany is acquiring the property and the surrounding 700 acres from the trust that cleaned it up and has plans for an industrial park there. He envisioned the community solar project, with sun tracking ability to maximize its energy production and a pollinator garden planted beneath, as a welcoming gateway to the riverfront development.

Savannah City Council had been scheduled to vote Thursday on a contract related to the project, but that agenda item was pulled before the council meeting. The contract would have obligated the city to pay up to $100,000 of the estimated $350,000 needed to clear the site of vegetation and cap it with clean soil. The site’s current owner, Greenfield Environmental Trust, has already paid about $200,000 to ready the site in time for a Georgia Power imposed deadline of early September.

Now that deadline is moot.

Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said the company “put in a tremendous amount of time and effort to fully review and consider that site.”

“In the end, it did not prove to be a suitable location because the high cost to construct the facility on the site exceeds the cost parameters outlined in the (Public Service) Commission’s order approving the program,” Kraft wrote in an email.

Georgia Power knew the site was once Savannah’s Deptford Landfill but didn’t make Dulany aware of those environmental concerns until Wednesday.

“They knew from day one,” Dulany said. “The reason it won the bid was that it was an old landfill. It would revitalize a property that you can’t use for anything else.”

Solar projects are being developed on landfills elsewhere across the country, said Dan Whitten, vice president of communications of the Solar Energy Industries Association. He isn’t familiar with the Savannah site.

“There are no concerns associated with developing on a landfill that are unique to solar,” he said. “Any construction project must be carefully planned and engineered, and particularly on landfills, planners have to be sure that there won’t be too much settling of the ground below and that the landfill cover has appropriate depth and stability. There are numerous landfill sites across the country where these issues do not pose a concern.”

Community solar makes it possible for renters or homeowners with too much shade or inadequate roof space to take advantage of solar energy by buying into a solar farm. The planned 1 megawatt project would have produced enough energy to power about 164 homes. The company is looking for a new site.

“We have been in communications along the way with the involved parties, including suggesting other possible alternatives, and will continue communicating with the various local stakeholders as a decision is made about a potential location for our forthcoming community solar site,” Kraft said.

Dulany was unaware Georgia Power was looking at other sites. He also found the utility’s cost argument less than compelling given problems with Georgia Power parent Southern Company’s abandoned “clean coal” plant in Mississippi and its struggling nuclear expansion at Plant Vogtle in Georgia.

“They are collectively $20 billion over budget between the two projects,” Dulany said.

Atlanta-based Hannah Solar, which has a Savannah office, submitted the winning proposal for the 1 megawatt of the total 3 megawatts of community solar state regulators have currently obligated Georgia Power to build.

Hannah Solar CEO Pete Marte was also disappointed with the utility’s decision, which he also learned of Wednesday.

“We’re all feeling the pain today,” he said Thursday.

Both Dulany and Marte suggested the site will still host solar panels. They just wouldn’t be owned by Georgia Power as was the plan with the community solar. Instead, private investors could own the panels. Dulany said he already had a few investors lined up and that he would also be one of them. The private project would likely be less than 1 megawatt. And Savannah will lose out on the lease fee of about $4,000 a year that Dulany had offered to donate to the city to help offset its continuing obligation to monitor and provide upkeep for its former landfill. But the former landfill will be producing energy.

“Mark my words, we’ll have solar there at the end of the day,” Dulany said.

Comments