Strange Bedfellows for Solar: Ted Turner, Southern Co.
CNN Television network founder and environmentalist Ted Turner has partnered with Southern Co., the second largest utility company in the US, to build huge solar farms in southwestern states like Arizona.
Turner Enterprises and Southern, both based in Atlanta, have bought five solar projects in the region, making Southern one of the utility companies with the most solar energy, Bloomberg says.
One of the projects the partners have bought includes the 139 MW Campo Verde thin-film photovoltaic project in California’s Imperial Valley, near San Diego. First Solar, which manufactures thin-film solar modules, sold the Campo Verde project and another project in New Mexico to Turner and Southern.
Southern’s electricity comes predominantly from coal to serve more than 4 million customers in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi. It has poured money into opposing renewable portfolio standard regulations that require utilities to source a set percentage of their energy from renewable sources, according to Renewable Energy World. Southern also blocked RPS measures in its home state of Georgia, a state where total solar capacity is only 22 MW – relatively small when compared to more progressive California, for instance, where state solar capacity exceeds 1 gigawatt.
But despite Southern’s political bent, the partnership offers Turner access to Southern’s funds and its technical expertise in building utility-scale projects, while Southern gets access to Turner’s land and reputation, according to Bloomberg.
Some utilities consider solar energy a threat to their business models, since residential and commercial customers that install solar panels not only generate their own electricity but also sell excess back to utilities via net metering. Four solar companies – SolarCity, Sungevity, Sunrun and Verengo – have formed The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) to ensure the continuation of net energy metering currently in place in 43 states.
And even utilities that have embraced renewables are keeping a wary eye on distributed generation. As more consumers install their own electricity generators, whether via solar, wind, fuel cells or micro-turbines, it constitutes an exodus of demand for energy from the utility.
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