SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
State Energy Overview
Georgia is blessed with the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, the fertile soils of the southern piedmont and the rich diversity of the coastal plain. However, each of these regions is threatened by our ever-changing climate. And unstable water resources, a vulnerable coastline and little political leadership make for an even more dangerous combination in Georgia.
Although some local governments are showing leadership on climate and energy issues, concerned voices are mostly overshadowed by the influence of powerful electric utilities. Georgia’s heavy reliance of fossil fuels contributes to climate change, and the state’s reliance on nuclear and coal overburdens limited water resources. Many of the state’s utilities show little sign of movement with large nuclear and coal plants under proposal.
Energy efficiency is recognized to be the fastest, most cost effective, cleanest and most underutilized fuel at our disposal. According to a Georgia Tech study, full deployment of energy efficiency could offset the need to build more power plants in Georgia until 2020. Yet Georgia’s electric utilities fall way short of tapping this rich resource. You can read more about energy efficiency in Georgia by visiting our Learn About page, here, and in our blogs on the 2013 Georgia Power Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) decision.
Georgia has gone from about 20 megawatts (MW) of solar in 2012, to what is anticipated to be over 1,000 MW by the end of 2016. This enormous growth crowned Georgia as the “fastest growing solar market” in the United States in 2013. The growth in solar comes from a combination of utility and Public Service Commission (PSC) leadership. First there was Georgia Power’s Large-Scale Solar (LSS) Initiative which is supposed to add 49 MW of large-scale solar by 2015. Then came Georgia Power’s proposed Advanced Solar Initiative (ASI) – approved in November 2012 and launched in early 2013 – whereby Georgia Power seeks to acquire 210 MW of solar (made up of 120 MW in utility-scale solar and 90 MW of distributed generation) by 2016. Although Georgia Power had no plans to include solar in their 2013 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a motion by Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald required that Georgia Power add another 525 MW of new solar generation by 2016, in addition to and as an expansion on what is already slated in the Advanced Solar Initiative. On top of these programs, Georgia Power is slated to bring on at least 120 MW of solar for military bases, and the Cobb Electric Municipal Cooperative (Cobb EMC) plans to bring on 131 MW to diversify their energy mix.
At the end of 2014, Georgia had 161 MW of solar installed in the state. There will be major activity over the next couple years as Georgia works toward fulfilling it’s targets and existing contracts. To add even further to this growth, a bill that would allow third-party financing in Georgia is steadily moving through the state legislature (as of March 2015), and if passed, would have the potential to significantly expand distributed solar development opportunities for electric customers in the state. You can learn more about solar by visiting our Learn About page, here.
State and local leaders are taking a closer look at Georgia’s significant offshore wind potential as well as wind energy opportunities in the North Georgia mountains and coastal areas. Our analysis shows that wind energy in Georgia (predominantly offshore) offers the largest potential of any renewable resource in the state over the long term. Georgia Power recently announced it would be purchasing 250 megawatts of wind energy from Oklahoma, citing the low cost of the fuel-free resource. With these new wind turbines, over 8,000 megawatts (MW) of land-based wind potential currently exist in Georgia. Developing just one gigawatt of wind energy capacity (1,000 MW) in Georgia (one-eighth of Georgia’s onshore potential) could power more than 255,500 homes a year! You can read more about wind by visiting our Learn About page, here.
Entrepreneurs are taking note of Georgia’s abundant bioenergy resources,and independent power producers and utilities are looking at options to build projects. Our analysis shows Georgia has a significant amount of commercially available and sustainable biopower capacity. However, utilizing any of these resources will need to be done carefully and require thorough assessments of need, resource availability and other demands, water use, biodiversity, carbon, soil quality, air quality and other economic and environmental impacts. A project in Barnesville, Piedmont Green Power, and another in Macon are in their final stages of development. Many other projects have been proposed for the state, but the prospects for their development remain unclear, based on factors including resource availability, federal regulations and laws, financing and environmental impacts. You can read more about bioenergy by visiting our Learn About page, here.
There are currently 9 coal plants throughout the state, all owned primarily by Georgia Power (a Southern Company). Georgia Power received approval from the Public Service Commission (PSC) on March 20, 2012 to retire two coal-fired generating units at Plant Harllee Branch in Putnam County. In early 2013, the company announced plans to retire the remaining two units at Plant Branch, along with all three units at Plant Kraft in Savannah and five out of seven units at Plant Yates in Coweta County. The Public Service Commission approved the retirements on July 11, 2013. The remaining units at Plant Yates will be converted to burn natural gas, and Plant McIntosh will burn a different type of coal; Plant Mitchell is being considered for conversion to burn gas or biomass. As of 2008, Georgia Power spent a total of about $2.6 billion on coal annually. The state was at number 9 in the list of the top 15 states for coal health impacts; in 2010, the Clean Air Task Force estimated there were 396 hospitalizations, 728 heart attacks and 536 deaths related to pollution from coal plants in Georgia. Also in 2010, 53.3% of energy in Georgia came from coal. Even though dependence on coal has declined from 64.7% in 2000, it is still a dominant part of Georgia’s energy mix. You can read more about coal by visiting our Learn About page, here.
In addition to creating air pollution, Georgia’s power plants produce nearly 6.1 million tons of toxic coal ash every year. The ash is mostly dumped in unlined pits near waterways where it can pollute water used for drinking, fishing and recreation. Although it is one of the top coal ash generating states in the country, Georgia has some of the weakest coal ash disposal regulations in the United States.
Georgia is home to two nuclear plants, each with two reactors, operated by Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of the Southern Company, Plant Hatch near Baxley along the Altamaha River and Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro along the Savannah River, with many more close by in neighboring states. Find a full overview of nuclear power facilities in and around Georgia here. Two Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactors are under construction at Plant Vogtle.
Nuclear power is expensive and risky. So much so that Wall Street won’t finance new nuclear reactors. So instead, our utilities pass the costs on to the ratepayers to pay on monthly bills. In fact, some of us are already paying more in advance on our monthly power bills to finance the expensive new Vogtle reactors due to anti-consumer state legislation passed back in 2009.
Nuclear power is an extremely risky and expensive way to boil water to generate electricity. Though nuclear power plants do not release carbon dioxide like coal plants, they do release radioactive and hazardous materials, including long-lived, highly radioactive waste, that threaten our security, jeopardize our health and pollute our natural resources. The consequences of an accident or terrorist attack at a nuclear power plant could be devastating. Nuclear plants are also incredibly water-intensive, depleting limited and precious water resources. Building new nuclear generation is a waste of the valuable time and money needed to address global warming and a missed opportunity to invest in affordable energy efficiency measures and real renewable solutions, such as solar and wind, that can benefit our state’s economy for generations to come. You can read more about nuclear power by visiting our Learn About Nuclear page, here.