Facebook partnership helps Georgia cooperative earn top mark
Consumer-owned Walton Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) is leading all Southeast utilities in solar power development, according to a newly published report by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).
In its Solar in the Southeast, 2018 Annual Report, SACE recognizes the northern Georgia electric cooperative as the region's top utility developer of major solar projects. The report documents current progress and trends driving solar growth in southeastern states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Walton EMC earned the top rank on the report's SunRiser list, which identifies the utilities experiencing the greatest solar energy growth. The co-op currently distributes 115 watts of solar power per customer-owner. By 2022, that number is expected to rise to 1,569 per customer — a standard that will put the cooperative at the top of the list of southeastern solar power distributors and boost Georgia's overall solar generation per customer by 135 percent.
Walton EMC landed at the top of the SunRiser list by executing power purchase agreements with three major solar projects to support a new Facebook data center. Last year, the cooperative executed contracts for the projects as part of its agreement to provide 100 percent renewable energy for Facebook's advanced, energy-efficient data center now under construction in Newton County.
"It's gratifying to be recognized for the groundbreaking energy supply arrangement for Facebook's Newton Data Center," said Walton EMC CEO Ronnie Lee. "We hope the SunRiser honor will spotlight our unique agreements that can serve as models for similar projects all across the country, bringing more renewable energy and economic rewards with them."
The renewable energy supply collaboration, which is the largest solar development project in Georgia, is projected to provide $230 million in new investment and 800 jobs to boost the state's economy.
"These results illustrate how significant large solar projects can be," said Bryant Jacob, SACE's solar program director. "Not only are these bringing jobs and tax revenues into the service territory, they are providing reliable, low-cost, clean energy and propelling that system to leading levels of solar watts per customer."
Walton EMC was selected to collaborate with Facebook because of its reputation as an energy innovator. In 2015, the cooperative launched Cooperative Solar, a program that allows co-op members to purchase blocks of solar electricity to offset energy produced from traditional fuels. The renewable energy program now encompasses three solar farms that annually produce 6.5 megawatts of solar electricity — enough energy to completely satisfy the power needs of about 1,100 homes.
Walton EMC is a customer-owned power company that serves accounts over its 10-county service area between Atlanta and Athens, Ga. Its primary focus is providing exceptional service to its 130,000 residential, commercial and industrial accounts while also caring for the area's communities.