“No we can’t” a tired refrain about renewable energy in Georgia

Guest Blog | April 21, 2009 | Coal, Energy Policy, Nuclear

Georgia Public Service Commissioner Stan Wise has already demonstrated that he is uninformed about the state’s renewable energy potential, and I guess today he thought he would remind us.  Commissioner Wise’s pessimistic outlook on a clean energy future shows that he doesn’t have the vision necessary to bring our energy infrastructure into the 21st Century, creating jobs and new economic opportunities.

Wise claims to be looking out for “low-income households,” but anyone who has closely followed his tenure on Georgia’s PSC knows that he is really only looking out for high-income executives from Georgia Power and Southern Company.  His “no we can’t” approach to renewable energy has more to do with maintaining “business as usual” for his power company buddies, blocking new technologies’ entry into the market and getting large nuclear plants into the rate base before they even start construction. Of course, now one of the nascent laws that allows utilities to charge for new nuclear plants up front is the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Fulton County Taxpayers’ Foundation, suggesting that this policy might not be in the public’s interest.

Back in 2006, Commissioner Wise characterized renewable energy as “affordable, sustainable and doable,” but noted that it won’t “take care of all the demand we’ll have.”  Yet McKinsey and Company, a global energy consulting firm, expects that we can offset more than 80% of projected growth in energy demand through 2030 with energy efficiency.  Under Commissioner Wise’s watch, however, Georgia’s utilities have not achieved even modest efficiency.  According to the Department of Energy, utilities in Georgia only met 0.004% of their electricity needs through efficiency in 2006 and 0.003% in 2007.

Wise insists that renewable energy won’t keep the lights on, but he’s the one that wants to keep the public in the dark.  When Stan Wise was the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, he sought to eliminate the checks and balances provided by the adversary staff, which represents the public during rate hearings before the Commission.  Arguing that the adversary staff had become too aggressive in protecting consumers, Commissioner Wise wanted to reorganize them.  But facing public outcry, Wise backed down and didn’t even show up to his own hearing on the proposal.

Bobby Baker, one of Wise’s colleagues on the Commission, said the staff was indispensable.  Baker told AP reporters, “They are the ones who have the technical expertise to do the analysis.”

Commissioner Wise struck out against transparency again in 2007 when he was the only Commissioner to vote against limitations on private meetings between utility lobbyists and the elected officials that regulate the utilities.  Remember, the Public Service Commission makes decisions worth billions of dollars to these companies, meaning there is an obvious conflict of interests.

A few months ago, Wise picked up where he’d left off, bemoaning that the sun doesn’t shine, the wind doesn’t blow and nothing will grow in Georgia.  Testifying before the House of Representatives, Wise said he was concerned that a “one size fits all” national renewable electricity standard (RES) would penalize Georgia because of regional differences in renewable energy resources.  Wise must not have learned that just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s worse.  The West might have more wind energy, for example, but that doesn’t mean that Georgia has none.  Georgia does have diverse and abundant renewable energy resources to draw from.

What Georgia doesn’t have is any coal or uranium.  Commissioner Wise says these resources are needed to maintain reliability, but if we adopt a national goal for renewable energy Georgia will pay for “wealth transfer” in the heavy fines levied for not complying.  Yet somehow Georgians already paying $2 billion to import coal from other states every year is different.

Commissioner Wise told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that an RES would cost Georgia “jobs, growth and industry—and be a significant cost to the ratepayer,” but this just isn’t the case.  The op-ed our organization published today highlights the economic opportunities available through developing our renewable energy resources.  According to Lazard Management, a global energy consulting firm, renewable energy resources like wind and bioenergy are already cost-competitive with new coal and nuclear.  The Department of Energy says solar will be cost-competitive between 2012-2015, and one of the most important things we can do to help bring the cost of solar down is to accelerate deployment of solar technology.

Apparently Commissioner Wise would rather determine energy policy behind closed doors with his buddies, but Georgia’s families and businesses deserve better.  Commissioner Wise continues to stand in the way of a clean energy future for Georgia, as he misinforms the public about the cost and availability of developing our state’s renewable energy resources.  We must hold public officials, like Commissioner Wise, accountable for their actions and demand that they recognize the truth instead of ignoring it.

Read today’s point-counterpoint with Commissioner Stan Wise in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Dr. Stephen A. Smith and Colin R. Hagan

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