City wants to leave behind hydro, hone in on solar

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By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News
July 24, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The City of Tallahassee is opting to leave behind hydro-power to hone in on solar power.

The City is looking to get out of its lease with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in operating the Corn Hydro-plant. The plant sits on Lake Talquin off Highway 20 and uses the dam between Lake Talquin and the Ochlocknee River to control and generate energy.

“About two years ago we started looking at whether (renewing the lease) was the right thing to do for our customers and we took a recommendation to the commission to say, ‘no it wasn’t,'” said Rob McGarrah, the General Manager of the City’s Electric Utilities.

The City has been leasing the facility since the 1980’s and is five years away from that lease expiring. Instead, it plans to get out of it even sooner.

A big factor in the decision is cost.

“When we look at the cost of generating at the hydro facility, which costs us about $85 per megawatt hour historically, we can get the same type of renewable generation from solar for less. For $50 per megawatt hour,” said McGarrah.

Instead, the City plans to expand its solar capabilities. Right now, a 20-megawatt solar farm is being built at the airport. Once that’s complete, a second 40-megawatt farm will be constructed. McGarrah said the solar farms put out more energy and are more reliable than hydropower.

“The big issue with our hydroelectric facility is where it gets its water. And it’s dependent on how much water falls in south Georgia and then runs down the Ochlocknee River and then the little river into the lake,” he said. “Since that’s highly dependent on rain fall the amount of energy we get is very variable. You can’t schedule it every day because you don’t know how much water is going to be coming down.”

According to McGarrah, solar is much more predictable.

At this point, the City has filed a petition with the state to surrender its license and the state is conducting public comment on the matter. Then the state will review the comments, and ultimately decide if the City can surrender the license or not.

If it's approved, the state will take control of Lake Talquin and the dam until a new power company takes over.

McGarrah said the City’s action should not change the public’s use of the lake.

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