A groundbreaking ceremony will be held Friday at Fort Benning on Georgia Power plans to build a $75 million solar panel farm, one of the largest renewable solar power projects in the state.
The event is set for 9 a.m. at the Uchee Creek Campground with officials from the post, Georgia Power and the U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives.
The solar project at Fort Benning and two other installations in the state will provide a 30-megawatt, alternating current, solar photovoltaic array on each post, said Dave Foster, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. Similar projects are planned at Fort Gordon in Augusta and Fort Stewart near Savannah. Across the nation, there are 13 energy projects on military installations using solar, bio diesel and other sources to produce energy.
The farm on post will feature 136,900 4-foot by 6-foot panels covering about 200 acres on the installation. The farm is scheduled to begin operation in 2016, providing about 40 percent of peak electrical demand.
John Kraft, a spokesman for Georgia Power, said the power generated from the farm will flow into the company’s electric grid. “It won’t directly supply the base but it gives us a location to place the facility to generate this solar power,” he said.
Fort Benning is a customer of Georgia Power and as a customer, the post will use some of the power but not directly from the panels, Kraft said.
Foster said there is 35-year easement with Georgia Power on the photovoltaic array or solar panel farm. “We are securing an energy source on our installation,” he said. “This 30-megawatt, we will always have.”
The partnership was approved by the Public Service Commission with a stipulation that solar power couldn’t cost more than it would to procure energy somewhere else. “We have to build it to come in at a cost than we would otherwise have to produce it,” Kraft said.
Although the sun is the fuel cost for the project, Kraft said there is a cost to install the panels, for maintenance and equipment to connect to the electric grid. The power company is taking advantage of lower costs to develop solar power. “It is a growing source of energy,” he said. “It’s just one source in our overall mix.”
A large percentage of energy for Georgia Power is produced from other plants using nuclear, coal, natural gas and other traditional sources. Solar power is an intermittent power source because it doesn’t produce at night and on rainy days. “We have to have sources that run 24/7 backing up those sources but they do play a role,” Kraft said. “It’s one piece of the puzzle.”
By the end of 2016, Georgia Power is expected to provide 900 mega watt from solar power.