The City of Marietta is expanding its options for purchasing power with a new deal that will provide up to four megawatts per hour — or about 1% of the city’s power needs — from a solar field in Wilcox County, just east of Cordele.

Marietta Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin was happy to be diversifying the city’s power sources for its 45,000 customers, even if only a tiny fraction will come from this solar deal.

“I think we ought to be proud to be in the solar business … that’s a good add,” Tumlin said at an August council meeting, after the council approved the contract.

The Marietta Board of Lights and Water will buy the power at a fixed price of 2.6 cents per kilowatt hour for 20 years, plus administrative costs.

Per City Manager Bill Bruton, the city’s average cost for power generation — including plant construction, operations and other fixed costs — is about 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

“This includes nuclear, water, gas and coal,” he told the MDJ. “We have the highest percentage of non-emitting carbon neutral energy generation of companies in our market area. This solar generation will add to this non-emitting advantage. The solar deal does not require the city to pay for the construction of the solar farm, so we only have the cost of energy actually received by Marietta Power.”

Tumlin said that the city is ending some of its relationships with other, older power sources and needs to keep finding new sources to replace them.

“So, we’re replacing the carbon, the fossils, with others as we go,” Tumlin said in an interview. “We didn’t buy extra, we bought it (the solar) as we go to cheaper resources.”

The solar field is planned to go online around the end of 2023 and is estimated to have 260,000 solar panels.

The city council approved a contract last month to purchase up to four megawatts per hour, though the city may at times receive less, based on demand from other cities.

Bruton explained that MEAG, the public corporation that generates and transmits power to municipal electric providers in Georgia, “may have too many megawatts requested by the participating cities. If that is the case, they will reduce everyone’s requests. If this happens, we could get an amount between 3 and 4 megawatts.”

Marietta is joining with more than 20 other MEAG member cities to purchase the solar power.

Of the power Marietta receives, 1.6 megawatt hours will be purchased by Walmart for its two stores in the city. The retail giant has committed to powering 100% of its operations with renewable energy by 2035 and is buying green energy from local utilities to power its stores with renewables.

MEAG will be purchasing 80 megawatts for its cities, in an effort to diversify its portfolio. MEAG hopes to buy 90% of its power from emissions-free sources by 2045.

MEAG’s Michele Jackson touted the benefit of a fixed price, giving the city the option to purchase solar when the cost of other power sources are high (the city purchases power daily from different sources based on the price of energy and the city’s needs).

“As the price of coal and natural gas fluctuate, this resource will likely be less expensive than those resources, or could be less expensive than these resources,” Jackson told the council.

The agreement is one of MEAG’s first forays into solar energy. The organization says it sources 67% of its energy from clean sources, most of which comes from nuclear power. Solar power would still make up less than 1% of MEAG’s total energy use, which it says is over 2,000 megawatts statewide. MEAG sources 61% of its power from nuclear energy, 24% from natural gas, 8% from hydro and 2% from coal.

The solar plant will be 600 acres, according to Jackson. The solar field will connect directly to a MEAG substation which will save money by not using other utility companies’ infrastructure.

The field will generate solar power from approximately 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. during the summer and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the winter. Winter sunlight is expected to produce about half as much energy as the blazing summer sun.

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