Mississippi Power has been proactively preparing for the growth of renewable energy, and Tony Smith has served as the company’s unofficial solar “guru.”
“I became involved in Renewable Energy considerations back in 2008 as there was a heightened potential for a Federal RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard),” said Smith, the company’s Air Quality Programs Manager. “I represented the company to work with Southern Company and other cooperatives to develop potential response strategies.”
By late 2011, the company was asking for official renewable energy bids.
“We were surprised and a bit unprepared for the level of interest in the market,” said Environmental Affairs Director Mark Loughman. “We received more than 100 proposals, roughly half of which were solar projects.
“At that time, solar projects weren’t economical. We had decided early on that we were only interested in renewable energy projects that made economic sense and would reduce costs for our customers.”
Fast forward to present day, where Loughman says the solar landscape shines brighter, so to speak.
“Many of these solar developers came back to us with offers and proposals that looked much more attractive,” he added. “There were improvements in panel technology, manufacturing costs fell, and the tax credits which make the economics work were expiring. Plus the Department of Defense was pushing hard for solar projects on their bases, to meet environmental goals and to improve energy security.”
All that added up to opportunities, so Smith was charged with helping seize them.
“I began my career in generation as a helper at the smallest, oldest plant in the fleet (Eaton) and aspired only to move up the ranks at some point in time,” Smith said. “I never dreamed of having the opportunity to work with system experts such as we have on new technologies like solar. It’s been a great learning opportunity to understand the technology and how it can fit into our business.”
This spring, Smith led the way as the company partnered with three solar businesses and the U.S. Navy to build utility-scale solar electric generating farms at three different locations in the company’s service territory.
“Tony was given the responsibility for evaluating renewable energy projects when he was still working at plants Eaton and Sweatt,” Loughman said. “It was a part-time job – one of the many hats he’s worn. In the process, he learned a lot about avoided cost concepts, economic dispatch, renewable energy credits, resource planning, purchased power agreements and the like. When the solar proposals became much more competitive, he was well-prepared to lead the negotiations. He’s received tremendous support from Theron Furr and the retail generation development team in Birmingham.”
These projects have been approved by the Public Service Commission, making Mississippi Power the state’s largest partner in renewable energy. The projects would generate 105 MW, the amount of energy used annually by approximately 15,500 homes.