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Alabama Power adding gas, solar to meet winter demands

Eddie Burkhalter

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In a filing on Friday to a state regulatory agency, Alabama Power announced plans to build a new natural gas-fired power plant and increase solar capacity, all in an effort to increase energy production to meet extra demands during winters. 

Alabama Power’s long-term energy plan filing to the Alabama Public Service Commission (APSC) states that the company plans to build a new natural gas plant at the company’s Barry SteamPlant located in Mobile County, and buy an additional plant in Autauga County and electricity generated at a third gas plant in Mobile County. 

The company also plans to build 400 megawatts of solar-derived electricity from five new solar farms to be built in Calhoun, Chambers, Dallas, Houston and Talladega Counties, according to the filing. 

Alabama Power, which supplies electricity to approximately two thirds of the state, told the APSC that the new gas plant in Mobile could be operational by November 2023. 

In written testimony to APSC included with the company’s filing, Alabama Power’s director of forecasting and resource planning, John Kelley, said the company’s winter peak demand for electricity is now larger than the summer demand. 

The additional energy reserves the company is asking for APSC’s permission to move forward with are needed to meet that demand, Kelley said. 

Alabama Power’s decision to build a new natural gas-fired power plant comes as the cost of building clean energy plants, including solar, continues to decline. 

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The Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based nonprofit think tank that studies sustainable energy, on Monday released two reports that show natural gas-fired power plants are more costly than Clean Energy Portfolios (CEP’s) which include wind and solar-powered energy generation. 

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The cost of wind and solar energy production has dropped by 80 percent since 2010, according to the reports, which notes that U.S. customers could save $29 billion by using clean energy over gas-fired plants. 

“However, US utilities and independent power producers are replacing retiring coal, nuclear, and old gas capacity on a nearly 1:1 basis with new gas-fired power plants—nearly 70 GW of capacity is announced for construction within the next five years, and at least another 20 GW of new gas proposed as part of longer-term utility resource plans,” according to the reports. 

Georgia Power, another Southern Company subsidiary, this year announced plans to replace 1 gigawatt of coal-generated power with 1 gigawatt of solar as that company continues to grow its share of solar capacity. 

Southern Company in 2018 announced the company’s goal of becoming a low or no-carbon fleet by 2050, but the company doesn’t mandate that all its subsidiaries meet that goal. 

“Southern Co.’s goal was systemwide; there’s not specific goals for the individual operating companies,” Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman told E&E News in February.

 

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