Gulf Power = Green Power? Utility leaps forward

Stephen Smith | February 16, 2015 | Coal, Energy Policy, Solar, Wind

Updated at 4:40pm ET, on February 16 to reflect correct solar capacity planned for military bases in Georgia Power’s service territory.

Gulf Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company and one of the smallest investor-owned electric utilities in Florida, just took not one, not two, but THREE steps forward on clean energy in as many weeks.

First, in late January, Gulf announced a partnership with three military bases to build 120 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity, setting a new bar for utility-scale solar in the Sunshine State. The move puts the utility on par with its sister utility Georgia Power’s 120 MW of planned military installations. There’s still a ways to go before catching up with Georgia Power’s commitment for a total of one gigawatt (1,000 MW) of total solar developments, but both utilities are far ahead of their sibling Alabama Power, which has yet to announce any utility-scale solar projects.

Then, Gulf Power announced the retirement of the coal-fired generating units at its Lansing Smith power plant, a major move away from dirty energy sources. The units, which could produce up to 375 MW of power in their heyday, are 50 years old and not economical to upgrade to meet current public health standards. Gulf Power’s Scholz plant is also retiring, underscoring the transition away from coal power as clean energy technologies become more competitive. SACE is keeping an eye on the coal ash that remains in unlined ponds at the two coal plants, and we expect a thorough clean-up and remediation of the unlined toxic waste pits to be part of these retirement plans.

Plains and Eastern Clean Line is a direct current link to the lowest-cost wind energy in the country. Credit: Clean Line Energy Partners

To top it all off, this week Gulf Power announced it will be purchasing 180 MW of wind energy generated in Oklahoma, following a trend among its Southern Company siblings made possible by extremely affordable wind power in the Midwest. Georgia Power gets 250 MW from Oklahoma, while Alabama Power receives 404 MW from Oklahoma and Kansas.

We hope this is the beginning of a new trend for wind in the South, with proposals for new long-distance transmission lines like the proposed Plains and Eastern Clean Line project (shown in image to the right), Gulf Power will have the opportunity to connect Florida customers with even more low-cost wind power from Oklahoma.

The addition of 400 MW of clean renewable power to Gulf’s energy mix is significant. These announcements firmly place Gulf Power, a company with a mere 430,000 customers, as the leader in Florida in the proportional increase in clean, renewable energy relative to its size. To place these announcements in perspective, FPL the state’s largest power company with 4.7 million customers, would have to add 4 GW (4,000 MW) of solar and wind just to keep pace with Gulf’s recent announcements.

Now that Gulf Power has thrown down the gauntlet, we look forward to progress on solar development, coal phase-out, and wind transmission at Florida’s other investor owned utilities. Perhaps someone will even set an ambitious energy efficiency goal. Who will make the next move?


Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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