SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Energy Equity and the 2013 Georgia Power Integrated Resource Plan
Thanks to advocacy from an unprecedented range of community members and leadership from Commissioners McDonald, Everett, and Echols, Georgia will be getting a whole lot more solar energy in the next three years. Please read our blog re-capping the outcome of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) process, and stay tuned to the blog and our action alerts for updates on future opportunities to get involved in utility planning.
Significance of the 2013 Georgia Power IRP
The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) reviewed Georgia Power’s long-term energy supply plan, known as the IRP, in February through July of 2013. The review process was public and we encouraged all voices to weigh in for clean energy choices that protect and improve our quality of life.
Georgia Power’s historical reliance on coal and reluctance to significantly expand energy efficiency programs leaves our state lagging behind the nation and the Southeast in transitioning to a clean energy economy. Communities of color are especially likely to live in the air pollution shadow of a coal plant and have children suffering from asthma; older and low-income citizens are more likely to pay high energy bills as a result of older, draftier houses that need weatherization and other improvements. Currently, the electric utilities in Georgia only invest $2 per person per year in energy efficiency programs, compared with a national average of $19, ranking us #45 in the country!
Georgia Power also historically underutilized low-cost opportunities for solar, which can help individuals become more energy independent. The 2013 IRP offered an opportunity to change direction. Georgia Power proposed to retire or partially retire three coal-fired power plants, an excellent step in the right direction. The PSC approved these retirements, and also took the IRP as an opportunity to include more solar power in Georgia Power’s resource mix, in addition to the recently-approved Advanced Solar Initiative. However, we feel the company still needs to do more to build on the success of its energy efficiency programs by ensuring that all customers have access to high quality programs.
Every three years, Georgia Power, a Southern Company subsidiary that provides electricity to 2.4 million households and businesses across the state, is required by law to submit its long-term energy plan for approval by the state Public Service Commission. The plan, called an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), contains Georgia Power’s projections for the state’s electricity needs for the next 20 years and its analysis of different options to meet those needs. The Georgia PSC is an elected body charged to “balance Georgia citizens’ need for reliable services and reasonable rates with the need for utilities to earn a reasonable return on investment.”
Historically, Georgia Power has relied heavily on coal and nuclear generation to meet energy needs (download our “What’s Powering Georgia?” fact sheet). Those choices have left our state dependent on two of the most risky sources of electricity, and emitting high amounts of carbon dioxide and other air and water pollution that causes health problems from asthma to neurological damage. Georgia Power has taken only limited steps to help consumers use less energy, which could lower bills and reduce the need to produce energy from risky and dirty sources.
The costs of risky energy sources are distributed disproportionately; people of color are more likely to live where they’re affected by air pollution from coal plants, to visit the emergency room for asthma, and to eat fish they catch that are contaminated with mercury. Meanwhile, low income and elderly citizens pay disproportionately high bills; they are more likely to live in older, draftier homes, and would benefit the most from energy efficiency programs that could help them lower their utility bills while making their homes more comfortable.
In the 2013 IRP, SACE raised the following points (our actual testimony can be downloaded as a PDF here).
- Coal plants are becoming less economical to operate, especially when the costs of complying with new regulations aimed at protecting public health are factored in, and Georgia Power has proposed that it be allowed to take three of its plants offline as part of this year’s IRP. We supported these retirements, and also urged that Georgia Power not be allowed to undertake uneconomical fuel switching at Plant Gaston in Alabama.
- Solar power is becoming increasingly competitive, so much so that Georgia Power plans to buy 210 MW of solar over the next two to three years through its Advanced Solar Initiative. It’s a good step, but a drop in the bucket compared to the solar potential in our state. SACE urged that Georgia Power adopt a plan to grow its solar energy portfolio – we studied a ten year, 2000 MW solar power portfolio and found it would be cost-effective for Georgia Power’s customers. This would represent an eight-fold increase in solar power development.
- Georgia has a lot of demand for energy savings programs. Georgia Power is increasing its annual energy efficiency goal and has proposed to offer one new commercial energy efficiency program, although the overall goal still remains low. SACE recommended the company adopt a set of programs that achieves higher energy savings for residential, commercial, and industrial customers and five times the participation of the Company’s proposed case.
To stay abreast current PSC proceedings, you can find the calendar of hearings on its website. Citizens may attend these hearings, and usually can sign up at the beginning of the day to make brief, 2-3-minute “public witness” statements. SACE often intervenes formally so we can call expert witnesses at the hearings, as well as cross-examining Georgia Power’s witnesses.