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Earlier this month, the Marietta Board of Lights and Water heard a proposal that would allow the city to purchase solar energy from MEAG Power, bringing increased renewable energy resources to the city’s 45,000 electrical users.

MEAG has been in discussions with a private provider to purchase up to 150 megawatts of solar power from a plant in south Georgia, beginning in 2023. Under the agreement, if approved, Marietta would purchase 3 megawatts of power.

The board heard the proposal at its Dec. 7 meeting. Representing MEAG was Steve Jackson, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the organization. 

Jackson explained that MEAG Power was initially working on this proposal in March of 2020, but talks were postponed due to the pandemic. Twenty-seven of MEAG’s 49 member cities have expressed interest, he said. He also outlined the details of the agreement with the provider, which are nearing completion. 

The contract would allow MEAG to purchase energy from the solar provider at a fixed price, locked in for 20 years. That price is still being negotiated but is estimated to be around $28 per megawatt hour. 

If Marietta agrees to sign on, it would not be "a traditional MEAG project,” Jackson said. In other agreements, the city has a certain fixed cost for access to power. Under the solar initiative, Marietta would only pay for the electricity it actually receives.

If finalized, the agreement would be one of MEAG’s first forays into solar energy. Currently, 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.

The initiative is still part of a broader strategy to diversify MEAG’s energy portfolio, Jackson said. MEAG hopes to be 90% emissions-free by 2045.

A crucial part of the Marietta proposal would be to provide roughly half of the 3 megawatts purchased under the agreement directly to Walmart stores. The company currently operates two locations within the Marietta city limits, and has set a goal to power all of its facilities with 100% renewable energy by 2035. 

Jackson was quick to note that the city of Marietta would pay no additional cost for this part of the agreement. 

“All of the costs that are incurred by MEAG under the purchase of power agreement … would be passed through to Walmart,” Jackson said. “And then you would have the ability to have a retail fee, a service fee, that would provide a benefit to the city of Marietta.”

According to MEAG’s estimates, Marietta would receive about $20,000 from Walmart through that service fee. 

“It’s more than just about the bottom line,” Mayor Steve Tumlin said at the meeting. “I think a large majority of folks want the world to be a little bit greener.” 

The Board of Lights and Water unanimously recommended to send both proposals — the purchase of solar power proposal and the Walmart contract — to the Marietta City Council. The council will begin discussion of the issue in early 2021.

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