SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
1. Solar Wins in Georgia Power Long-term Plan
A brief breakdown of Georgia Power’s new IRP
Georgia may get a lot more solar energy soon thanks to revisions to Georgia Power’s long-term energy plan (the Integrated Resource Plan or IRP). That plan, which Georgia’s Public Service Commission (PSC) approved on July 11, has far-reaching implications from reducing coal plant pollution to increasing low-income energy efficiency opportunities. Here’s the scoop:
By a 3-2 vote, the Commission approved Commissioner Bubba McDonald’s motion to expand the Advanced Solar Initiative (ASI) by an additional 525 MW by 2017. The program stipulates there will be no upward pressure on rates, and customers may, and likely will, save money. SACE applauds this second big step to advance solar energy in Georgia. In the last 12 months Georgia has gone from little more than a blip on the solar capacity meter, with less than 20 MW, to recognition as one of the country’s “sunniest” markets.
Although Georgia Power can be credited for launching the ASI with 210 MW announcement last fall, the Company included ZERO new solar in its 2013 IRP. SACE testified in favor of additional solar energy, along with an array of other stakeholders; public comment supporters ranged from solar industry groups to the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots.
The Commission approved Georgia Power’s plan to retire about 2,000MW at 15 coal- and oil-fired units, which is a big win for Georgians’ health and for ratepayers. This news means that Plant Harllee Branch and Plant Kraft will be shut down, along with 5 out of 7 generators at Plant Yates. The retiring plants emitted nearly 4 million tons of carbon dioxide and over 27,000 tons of toxic sulfur dioxide last year.
Unfortunately, the PSC allowed an expensive conversion at Plant Gaston to inefficiently burn natural gas. Without this fuel switch, the plant would not be able to comply with new Clean Air Act rules and probably would need to retire. Georgia Power also got the nod to install pollution controls on plants Bowen, Hammond, Wansley, and Scherer. While these controls reduce harmful air pollution, they cannot reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change.
Other plants were approved to switch fuels: two generators at Plant Yates will be retrofitted to inefficiently burn natural gas, and Plant McIntosh will switch to lower-sulfur coal from Wyoming, decreasing its efficiency. We believe in the long run these plants are candidates for retirement.
The news on the energy efficiency front isn’t quite as rosy. SACE recommended that the PSC require Georgia Power to step up its energy efficiency programs. Specifically, as compared to the Company’s proposal, SACE suggested that Georgia Power offer a portfolio that had eight more programs; achieved 70% more energy savings (translating to bill reductions averaging between 5-12%); and reduced bills for the majority of customers in every rate class (residential, commercial, and industrial). The final IRP will increase energy savings goals by a paltry 10% over the company’s initial proposal. Considering how successful Georgia Power’s existing programs are, we feel it was a missed opportunity to expand them. We’ll keep looking for ways to encourage increased energy efficiency at Georgia Power.
On the bright side, Commissioner Tim Echols wants Georgia Power to provide details on a low-income energy efficiency program within 30 days, at which time the Commission will decide whether to certify (approve) it. Efficiency help can mean a lot to low and fixed-income households, so we look forward to this process.
Thank you to everyone who came out over the last few months to the Public Service Commission, to testify or just to show the PSC that Georgia’s future matters to you. This year’s IRP made the most significant changes to Georgia’s energy mix in recent memory, and overall we think the results of the process lay good groundwork for continued progress.
A longer version of this story is posted on our blog at http://bit.ly/12DiUuw.
2. SE Energy Choices Today Affect Water Availability Tomorrow
New report finds current energy use affects water-strained areas
In July, the Energy and Water in a Warming World initiative (EW3), a collaborative effort between the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a team of independent experts, released their second major report, Water-Smart Power: Strengthening the U.S. Electricity System in a Warming World. SACE is a key partner working with UCS in the Southeast to highlight concerns about existing and future water-energy collisions.
This innovative new study examined various scenarios by which the power industry could choose to generate electricity over the coming decades and what the subsequent effects are on watersheds – both in terms of water quality and quantity. Despite recent industry shifts in electricity generation, ongoing water requirements could still adversely affect water-strained areas, and do little to reduce power generation-related carbon emissions.
In the Southeast, the study focused on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) water basins in Georgia, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle, which are already significantly stressed and are lined with multiple water-thirsty coal and nuclear plants. For years, those states have fought over water from those basins, particularly in times of water stress including the drought of 2007. Power generation accounts for more than 40 percent of the nation’s freshwater withdrawals. In parts of the Southeast like Georgia and Alabama, power plants are by far the largest water users with withdrawals ranging from over 50 percent to upwards of 80 percent (respectively).
The South is experiencing unprecedented population growth compared to the rest of the nation. Estimates of 40 percent growth by 2030 will increase demand for electricity. Conservative estimates show that conventional power plant capacity is projected to rise almost 20 percent by 2030 in order to meet that demand. As the effects of climate change mount, including rising temperatures and declining water availability, these factors combined will further degrade our limited water supplies. The competing demands for energy and water are colliding, putting both at risk.
Utility companies across the Southeast are at a moment of great change as the economic viability of coal and nuclear plants declines, natural gas prices remain low, and global awareness of the seriousness of climate change drives new policy measures. It is clear that the choices utilities make today will seal the fate of how much strain their energy portfolios will place on the region’s dwindling water supplies and contribute to the effects of climate change in the decades to come.
If the “business-as-usual” path continues in the Southeast, scientists expect the net water supply to decline by 2060 while population and demand rise, worsening water stress and affecting wildlife in some of the nation’s most sensitive and biologically diverse rivers.
Make sure to visit our Learn About page for further information about the study’s findings on regional and national levels.
3. What’s at Stake: Coal Ash In Your Area
New blog series features local rivers endangered by coal ash
You’ve heard us talk about coal ash – the toxic trash left over when coal is burned for electricity – time and again. What you may not realize, however, is that this is an issue right in your own backyard! Coal ash is dumped along almost every major river in the Southeast, infringing on our right to rivers that are drinkable, swimmable and fishable. SACE’s 2013 summer blog series “Southeast River Runs: Coal ash on the rivers we love” highlights eight of these imperiled rivers in our region, and some of the communities and ecosystems that rely on them.
Rivers are vitally important to Southeastern communities. We need them for drinking water and for the economic benefits they provide; rivers are enmeshed in our cultural and natural heritage. However, the drinking water sources for Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotte, and many more communities are contaminated with coal ash.
Furthermore, ours are some of the most biologically diverse rivers in the world, home to many rare and endangered species. The Coosa River, for example, is home to over 30 species of fish, crayfish and mussels found nowhere else in the world. Unfortunately, coal ash is just one of the many pressures facing these species, pushing them ever closer to extinction.
In addition to the coal ash problems we face today, this series also highlights the actions we can all take to protect our rivers from further damage. If you’re feeling especially inspired, we invite you to attend the first ever Southeast Coal Ash Summit in Atlanta this September and learn more about coal ash and what you can do to protect our communities and waters from this toxic waste.
You can also visit www.SoutheastCoalAsh.org, the first-ever comprehensive online tool that allows Southerners to find specific information about coal ash impoundments near their homes and communities.
4. Have You Seen the Climate Bus Yet?
Climate bus visits Asheville, and is headed to a state near you!
President Obama vowed his Administration would act on climate since Congress has failed do so. During his impassioned speech delivered on June 25, the president urged Americans from all walks of life to rise up and demonstrate support for his climate action plan, which will include reducing carbon pollution, investing in clean energy solutions and preparing for the impacts of global warming.
On July 12th, Asheville, North Carolina became one of the very first stops in a 21-state “I Will Act on Climate” bus tour designed to highlight the impacts of climate change, the opportunities created by climate action, and the need for local action – and SACE was proud to be one of the lead organizers for this event. The national bus tour is supported by a wide array of local, state-based, and national public health and environmental organizations as well as business leaders, climate scientists, faith leaders and national security experts.
By late-August, when the bus finally rolls into Washington, DC, it will have hosted at least 50 events in states across the county most affected by extreme weather events that are becoming all to commonplace as an impact of climate change.
The crowd in Asheville confirmed that Americans are ready to stand up in their local communities to demonstrate support for the President’s plan to limit carbon pollution under the leadership of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy as well as celebrate the new jobs and other benefits that will come with investing in clean energy.
So far, the bus has already made its way through the Carolinas, across Georgia and the Panhandle and into Louisiana. Get the latest updates on the “I Will” campaign bus tour here, and look out for the bus to lend your support for climate action!