Grid Modernization 2018 Summit will bring together regulators, utility leaders and key technology innovators to explore how to optimize grid investment to meet growing customer demands and operational needs…
Expansion of Renewable Energy in Georgia & the Southeast
Written By: Jen Neville
January 1, 2018
Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, Jr., Commissioner, GEORGIA PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION
McDonald, who served 20 years as a state Representative, was appointed to the Commission in June 1998 by Governor Zell Miller to fill a vacated post and then re-elected in a special mid-term election in November 1998. He held the seat until 2002. In 2008 and in 2014, Georgians again elected McDonald to serve on the Commission.
McDonald has a deep knowledge of the energy industry. He puts that knowledge to work as a member of the Electric Committee of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and as an executive member of the Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition. During his time on the Commission he has been a strong proponent of adding solar energy to the state’s utility infrastructure in a conservative and thoughtful manner without putting upward pressure on rates. In 2013 he was able to garner support to add 525 megawatts of solar energy to the portfolio of the state’s investor owned utility. Since then, McDonald has supported the conservative addition of more solar power to Georgia’s energy mix, resulting in the state becoming one of the top five fastest growing states in the nation for solar energy. He has also supported the construction of solar facilities at six of Georgia’s military bases, contributing to national security and helping to protect the bases from future base closure proposals.
McDonald is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a BBA in Business. He also served six years in the Georgia Air National Guard. He owns businesses in the private sector and is married to Shelley McDonald. He was married to the late Sunny Nivens McDonald for 45 years. He has a son, Lauren and three grandchildren.
Stratton Report: The Southeast, in general, has experienced tremendous growth and deployment of renewable energy in the past few years. What do you feel have been the prime drivers for that?
McDonald: The advancement of technology in solar, the availability of land in Georgia, the price of the land in Georgia, the interest rates on long term financing, the market driven potential that’s here in our state with no upward pressure rate payers and no state subsidies.
Stratton Report: How has the commission in your state facilitated the growth of renewable energy? What are some things that you’ve seen?
McDonald: Well, in 2013, I initiated in the integrated resource plan with Georgia Power Company that had not one watt of solar power in that plant and I went to them. And I said, “We are going to put some solar power in this plant and we can do it in one of two ways. We can do it as partners. And if we are successful, we both win. If we do this as adversaries, there would be a winner and a loser.” But members of the Georgia Public Service Commission, I had already gotten support from two of my colleagues which made 3 including me and that was the last thing. I said, “Oh by the way, I have three votes.” And of course, we put 525 Megawatts in that Integrated Resource Plan and that’s where our program started.”
Stratton Report: What plans and initiatives is your state undertaking currently to encourage more growth of renewable energy.
McDonald: Well, we’ve been doing it constantly. We’ve been doing it on a very progressive way but not trying to cover the world in solar power. We’ve not had the back up on any of our policies and again, I would say it has been market driven and the cost of the PPAs that we get from the developers and even Georgia Power itself has developed some of the solar programs is at or below the voided cost. And so we’re still very involved through the power company. Over the next couple of years, we’ll have a gigawatt of solar power in our state. And of course, EMCs of the world have also gotten into the business. And so our renewable program through solar has grown significantly. We are right as far as volunteer solar. We don’t have an RPS in the State of Georgia. We are visionaries and we think that the market driven side of it is the best way to go.
Stratton Report: Any big priority projects that you might think of off the top of your head that are going on right now?
McDonald: Well, we’ve got some 1600 megawatts on the drawing board now. We’ve got 139 megawatts on the drawing board and pretty much to cut the ribbon on it. It’s not developed yet at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia. That’s just edge to other base renewable programs, 30 megawatts at Fort Stewart, 30 at Fort Benning, 30 at Fort Gordon, 30 at the submarine base and 30 plus at the logistics base in Albany, Georgia. So we have been very active in getting those base infrastructures in place and they’re all in place next at Robins and good for cyber security program and for defense.
Stratton Report: Are there any particular issues that concern you about the extension of renewable energy?
McDonald: Well, the big issue with the solar side, of course, is the suggested tariff that the International Trade Commission as suggested to the President. They put a tariff on the China panels that are sent over here, but I opposed it. I testified before the International Trade Commission
Stratton Report: What are the opportunities for corporate procurements of renewable energy in Georgia and how can those customers best work with the regulated utilities?
McDonald: Well, it depends on when you say corporate procurements, they’ll have to–they can build what they want on their plant. If they use it, they can’t sell it to their neighbor. And that’s true back in the State of Georgia and it’s a very restricted. It’s been in place since 1973. And so it would be very difficult but you can put all you want and you have or your rooftops of your business but you have to use it. We have programs where you can sell it back to the utility. That’s a process.
Stratton Report: What would you say is the role that regulators have in helping C&I customers meet their sustainability goals and how does that contribute to economic development?
McDonald: Well, we provide the opportunities to enter in the contract with the PPA with the utility. And so that gives opportunity and of course by them involving renewable energy in their manufacturing or whatever they’re doing that help them in selling their products in areas where they are probably strong on renewables and they know that so much energy is being produced by renewable energy and so those things will help our goals as we continue to have economic development here in our state.
Stratton Report: How have you seen the expanding role of residential solar or do you see an expanding role?
McDonald: It’s slow. It’s been slow.
Stratton Report: What advantages and disadvantages do you see with procuring renewable energy locally vis-à-vis bringing in clean power from another area that may have better wind or other resources?
McDonald: Oh, we’re bringing in wind now. We can contract through PPA contracts with wind coming in from local home in New Mexico and other areas cheaper than we could produce with ourselves.
Stratton Report: Right. So it’s definitely more cost…
McDonald: Well, they have an abundance. They have–in fact, they are always generating in those areas and they’re looking for places to put it and they will send it to us guaranteed, FOB destination. In that way we can enjoy the rates and enjoy the wind power and not have to deal with the terms.
Stratton Report Do you have any concern at this time about forming of solar or any thoughts about the best ways to address these concerns?
McDonald: Oh, I think that we’re going to continue as technology continues. When the capability and–with the capabilities there and there but when the affordability of storage is going to have a major impact on solar once it becomes affordable. It’s down the road but there’s a lot of work going on it and that’s something we look forward to.
Stratton Report: Do you see an emerging role for energy storage right now and any thoughts on how it might be handled in the IRP process?
McDonald: Well, again, we’re–in the State of Georgia, we’re not going to engage in anything that’s going to unreasonably put up with pressure related point. We’re going to really watch those lands, but storage is going to come in time. It’s just not there yet. It’s not priced yet.
Stratton Report: Do you see the bottle situation affecting procurement of utility scale solar in the future in Georgia?
McDonald: No. It’s not an issue for us.
Stratton Report: Is there’s something that you’d like to share with us about maybe the Southeast market in general or what the State of Georgia is doing in general in terms of the extension of renewable energy?
McDonald: I’m proud of our state and I’m proud of our partner with the power company that–and the EMCs and Meags of our state that have engaged in this and I say it again, we happen to be geographically located where we are extreme fortunate to have the electrons from the sun in our state and fortunately we have the landmass with a larger state geographically near the Mississippi river and that would be a lot of advantage because of location, location, location. And we have a very, very positive business market in Georgia and they have national magazines over the last four, five years that have recognized Georgia as the best state in relation to business. When industries from abroad or from domestic side, whatever when they look at an area to engage in manufacturing or whatever it might be, one of the top questions that they ask is what is my energy cost and how reliable is it? And we captured that market.