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Sawnee EMC reaches deal with solar farm
Will buy electricity generated at site in south Georgia
Sawnee EMC has entered into an agreement with owners of a future solar farm, similar to this one, to buy 50 percent of the power generated by the facility in south Georgia. - photo by For the Forsyth County News

CUMMING — Sawnee Electric Membership Corporation soon will be using a large-scale solar facility to provide some of its electricity supply to customers.

Blake House, vice president of member services, said Sawnee EMC has acquired a 50-percent stake in the total energy produced from a new 20-megawatt solar project in Jeff Davis County.

The project, which House said is under construction, will be the second largest solar-generating facility in the state.

“It’s being built down in south Georgia, where land is affordable, and that makes the project feasible,” he said. “It has good transmission lines, so the project makes sense down there.

“We don’t have to invest a dime. All we’ve done is we’ve committed to buy half the output, so we don’t have to risk anything, we don’t have to spend any money … that’s the beauty of it, there’s no risk.”

House said this is the first time Sawnee EMC will buy electricity generated by solar power on a large scale.

“We have about 60 customers who own their own solar panels,” he said. “And the law in the state of Georgia says if we have a customer who generates more power than they use, we have to buy the excess, which we do.”

House added that there are also about a dozen businesses in the area with the same arrangement.

“We purchase that solar from them, but that’s completely different from this,” he said. “This is our first purchase power agreement for solar.”

As for the impact on bills, House said customers won’t see any differences as a result of the new power source.

“It won’t do anything to rates,” he said. “It’s no risk to our customers. It’s not going to increase or decrease their rates.

“The only thing it will really do for the customers is for those customers who have been wanting to say, ‘We get a portion of our power from solar,’ they can now say that.”  

In recent years, many Sawnee customers have been interested in solar power since the industry is moving away from coal plants to “cleaner” forms of energy production, according to House.

“We’ve got comments from a lot of our customers since we … sent out an email that said, ‘Thanks so much for doing this, we’ve been supporters of solar for a long time,’” he said.

The solar project, which is owned by Silicon Ranch Corp., soon will launch on 135 acres of farmland near Hazlehurst. The project will feature more than 87,000 ground-mounted solar panels.

According to Sawnee, if lined up end to end, the panels will be more than 105 miles in length.

Sawnee members will be using the solar power from the project by early 2015.

House said the power will be exactly the same as that generated from other sources, only its production is more environmentally-friendly.

“The beauty of this is the 10 megawatts of solar will displace us having to go get 10 megawatts of coal or nuclear or natural gas [production], so it’ll offset the conventional,” he said. “So the environmentalists are appreciative of it.”