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Valdosta Powers Up with the South Georgia Sun

February 2, 2018
This article appeared in the February 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Solar energy produced at the Mud Creek and Withla¬coochee Wastewater Treatment Plants solar sites offset the city’s electric bill by approximately $34,935 annually.

Smart energy decision-making in the city of Valdosta includes technology and innovation and is powering up with the South Georgia sun. Valdosta has pur­sued renewable energy options since the early 2000s. What started out as a general discussion with Hannah Solar about the city’s move into the solar-en­ergy arena eventually led Valdosta lead­ers to tap into the growing industry as a solution for generating capital assets from land with little or no development potential. Now, Valdosta has nine solar photovoltaic (PV) installations—seven that were installed between November 2016 and December 2017 under the 2015-2016 Georgia Power Advance So­lar Initiative (GPASI) and all built at no cost to taxpayers. More than 35 acres of undevelopable land now produce 6.3 megawatts of power, which is enough electricity to power up to 6,300 homes, depending on weather conditions.
 
Valdosta leaders demonstrated their commitment to environmental and financial responsibility by pursuing these projects, which collectively rep­resent an approximately $9,850,000 capital investment in equipment and construction. Hannah Solar and Val­dosta worked together to craft a strat­egy that would continue to place solar power generated from the newest installations on the electric grid. However, in lieu of approxi­mately $415,000 of lease payments, Hannah Solar constructed two city-owned solar capital assets lo­cated at the city’s Mud Creek and Withlacoochee Wastewater Treat­ment Plants that now produce a combined 477,750 Kilowatt hours, which directly offset the city’s elec­tric bill in those locations by ap­proximately $34,935 annually.
 
“Valdosta leaders were very for­ward thinking by taking land adja­cent to a wastewater treatment plant, for example, that has no better use and isn’t generating tax revenue for the city, and then turning it into something that generates an income and also energy to offset your highest energy-consuming facilities,” said Allan Ricketts, Hannah Solar’s regional business development manager.
 
The power generated from solar PV installations, which were completed in 2010 and in 2013, is placed on the electric utility grid in exchange for ap­proximately $650,000 in land lease pay­ments over 30 years. But when Valdosta leaders decided to expand their solar installations in 2016-2017 under the 2015-2016 GPASI, they wanted more than just lease payments for the land; they wanted power.
 
“In Valdosta, we always focused on how to utilize these solar facilities to power some of our high-energy use fa­cilities,” said former Valdosta City Man­ager, now GMA Executive Director Lar­ry Hanson. “Rather than be in the lease payment business, we wanted to ex­plore how to build our own solar facili­ties that would directly provide power to our facilities and offset the electricity expenses for our taxpayers.”
 
“During the longest sun-ex­posure days of the year, the city-owned solar PV installation at the Withlacoochee plant is projected to produce more electricity than the plant will use,” said Valdosta Public Information Officer Semen­tha Mathews. “In these instances, the excess electricity generated can be sold to Colquitt EMC, coin­cidently, during a time of the year when electric utilities in the South­east have the most demand for electricity.”
 
Mathews also noted that the electricity produced at seven of these solar sites goes onto the grid and flows wherever the energy is needed by the electric company.
 
“Valdosta is a trendsetter in smart energy programs, evident by the num­ber of cities around the state that seek to emulate what Valdosta has done. The commitment of city leaders dem­onstrates their environmental respon­sibility of reducing the city’s carbon footprint by offsetting carbon-based energy and embracing the most abun­dant source of energy on the Earth,” she said.
 
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