SACE Files Testimony Against Georgia Power’s Latest Fossil Fuel Frenzy

Georgia Power is stuck in the fossil past. If their latest requests are granted, all of us will pay the price.

Cary Ritzler | February 19, 2024 | Climate Change, Energy Policy, Extreme Weather, Fossil Gas, Georgia, Utilities

Carbon Pollution From Electric Utilities is Soaring

The utilities that supply our electricity are responsible for almost one third of the carbon pollution that’s overheating our planet. Decades of dependence on fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – has pumped carbon pollution into the atmosphere, leading to the high heat and extreme weather that made 2023 a year of record calamity.

Yet at a time when the devastating impact of fossil fuel pollution is increasingly clear, many electric utility companies are continuing a decades-old strategy of blocking and delaying meaningful changes that could tap the brakes on runaway climate warming, while continuing to pursue long-term investments in fossil fuel buildout. Their resistance to change has created conditions that bind us all to using fossil fuels to meet our daily energy needs for decades to come, even when reliable, inexpensive, and clean energy sources like solar, wind, and long-duration energy storage are readily available. With recent actions, it appears Georgia Power and its parent, Southern Company, are digging in even more firmly to this strategy, despite the state’s rapid transformation into a hub for clean energy manufacturing.

A Two-Pronged Attack on Our Clean Energy Future

Recently, the utility filed an Intregrated Resource Plan (IRP) update outside the normal three-year timeline asking to massively expand fossil gas and oil plants, and potentially even add more coal to the state’s mix. This surprise IRP exposes Georgia Power’s poor planning, as they are seeking major, costly changes barely a year after finalizing their last plan, which should have projected needs through 2041. Instead, Georgia Power underestimated, in another of many miscalculations that end up costing Georgia Power customers.

While Georgia Power and Southern Company seek to force feed the Georgia grid with fossil fuels, they are also fighting rules that could limit carbon pollution from their plants.

Last summer, the EPA proposed common-sense rules to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution from power plants, which to this point has been essentially unregulated. If finalized as-is, the new EPA rules would reduce emissions from all coal power plants and many gas power plants in the 2030-2040 time frame, substantially limiting climate pollution

But Southern Company has sought to weaken and delay the rules’ implementation, suggesting to EPA that the timelines are infeasible and that carbon-free technologies will cost customers. And our (elected) Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) echoes the Company’s talking points, calling the rules “extremely complex with an aggressive timeline” and saying they will lead to increased costs for citizens and businesses. 

Flexible Rules with Many Options to Comply

These are mischaracterizations. The reality is that the proposed carbon rules are designed flexibly and provide multiple cost-effective and reliable methods for utilities to hit the targets. Options include the utility investing more in energy efficiency to help reduce demand (which could lower the need for more power plants), developing solar and batteries as primary energy sources, and implementing innovative grid management that reserves using fossil gas for less frequent use, such as extreme winter mornings when renewables aren’t as readily available. Using these cleaner alternatives would allow utilities to meet the requirements without relying heavily on the more expensive technologies, like equipping fossil power plants to burn hydrogen or capture carbon emissions.

A Chance to Choose People and Planet Over Profits

Both the utility and the PSC can make choices that can either lower bills and reduce carbon emissions, or raise bills and increase pollution. The decisions that Southern Company, Georgia Power and the PSC today will impact Georgians for decades to come. If the utility company chooses to invest in lower-cost energy sources, they will have less need to raise customer rates while supplying cleaner power to the grid. If the PSC chooses to prioritize customers, they have many levers to keep the company from raising rates, including denying or reducing utilities’ proposed fee and rate hikes. The PSC can also require Georgia Power to supply a greater amount of clean, renewable energy to the grid.

Georgia Power’s resistance to a clean energy future will not only exacerbate the already-dire effects of climate change, but will also continue to raise the bills for Georgia families, many of whom already struggle to make ends meet. The utility’s new plan would increase climate pollution at a time when people all over the world are facing the deadly (and costly) impacts of climate change. It would expose Georgians to decades of volatile fuel costs that are passed on to us through higher monthly utility bills. And, if they (along other utilities) succeed in delaying or weakening the proposed carbon rules, it will mean more carbon emissions across the country. Georgia Power is proposing to protect their dangerous “business as usual” in these most unusual times, and we will all suffer for it if they succeed.

What Happens Next

The Public Service Commission will hear testimony about the Georgia Power IRP update from intervening parties on February 29 and March 1st. Intervening parties, like SACE, are stakeholder groups who file official testimony with the Public Service Commission. Click here to read SACE’s filed testimony. Members of the public who would like to address the PSC can attend the meeting and speak during the first hour of the hearings on either day. Individuals can also submit written comments to the public service commission at this link, referencing docket number 55378. 

The outcome of the proposed carbon rules will be determined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Biden. You can join SACE in urging EPA to finalize robust rules as quickly as possible by signing your name to this petition.

Cary Ritzler
This blog was written by a former staff member of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
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