Unusual Bedfellows at the Georgia PSC

Guest Blog | May 23, 2013 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Justice, Energy Policy, Solar, Utilities

What do the Georgia Tea Party, low-income advocates, faith leaders, and green business have in common?

They were all at the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) this week calling for more clean energy in Georgia Power’s long term energy plan – some for more solar, some for expanded efficiency programs, some for retirement of coal plants, and some for all three.

On May 21-22, 2013, the PSC held the second of three hearings to review Georgia Power’s energy plan, known as the Integrated Resource Plan or IRP (learn more on our Take Action page). The PSC reviews the plan every three years to “balance Georgia citizens’ need for reliable services and reasonable rates with the need for utilities to earn a reasonable return on investment.” As part of the review, any citizen may comment on the proposed plan as a “public witness”. The hearings don’t always attract a crowd, but this week, it was a star-studded line-up with some common threads from a surprising variety of perspectives.

Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, a well-respected Atlanta civil rights leader (pictured above), kicked off the comments by calling on the PSC to approve Georgia Power’s proposed fossil fuel plant retirements, expand energy efficiency programs, and add solar into the long-term plan. He pointed to climate change and other health impacts of coal power.

“People ask me why I’m working on these environmental issues when there’s so much to be done for civil and human rights. I ask them, how can I do my work if I’m dead?”

Bobby Green addresses the Commission

From the low-income advocate perspective, Teresa Pearsall and Gloria Lee of the Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority and Bobby Green of CHEC Pro all addressed the need to increase access to efficiency programs. Mr. Green said according to his informal door-to-door survey, the average utility bill in his neighborhood is about $250 a month for a 900-square-foot home, while the average income is about $19,000. “Something’s wrong with that,” he said. Ms. Lee pointed out that low-income residents often can’t afford a new appliance in order to take advantage of the rebate Georgia Power currently offers. She reminded the commission of the Bible’s call to care for “the least of these.”

Republican State Representative Rusty Kidd and Georgia Tea Party Patriots State Coordinator Debbie Dooley both felt the proposed plan needed more solar energy. While Georgia Power instituted a commendable “Advanced Solar Initiative” earlier this year, its proposed long-range plan lacks any additional solar investment over the next 30 years. While he accepts that his district stands to lose a coal-fired plant if retirements are approved, Rep. Kidd wants to see better solar policy to attract other industry to the state. Ms. Dooley spoke about the importance of diverse fuel sources to protect the consumer. Both emphasized the falling price of solar energy.

Howard Katzman says contractors are ready for more energy efficiency programs.

Twelve local energy efficiency contractors and suppliers sent the PSC a sign-on letter asking that the Company’s energy efficiency programs be expanded to multiply the overall energy savings goal by three (from .3% to 1%). Six of them were present to comment at the hearing. Howard Katzman of GreenChoice Consulting, which audits and improves home energy performance under Georgia Power’s EarthCents program, stated: “We’ve got the workforce, we’ve done the training, and we’re ready for these programs to expand.” The contractors also praised Georgia Power staff implementing the current programs and asked that a working group be created for contractors to share their experience and advise future program development.

Other public witnesses included:

  • Garry Harris of the Center for Sustainable Communities, a nuclear engineer and green development advocate who’s proud he got his electric bill down to $28 last month;
  • Tyler Faby, a student activist working to shut down the coal boiler at the University of Georgia;
  • Rev. Alexis Chase, Executive Director of Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, who said “If we can help congregations save $1 million on energy with $350,000 in assistance, imagine what Georgia Power could do;”
  • June Deen, on behalf of the American Lung Association and Mothers and Others for Clean Air, who supported coal plant retirements in the proposed plan because they’ll reduce the impact on vulnerable people such as those with asthma;
  • Kelli Persons with the League of Women Voters of Georgia, who urged a diverse fuel mix with an increased demand reduction (energy efficiency) goal of 1%.

The Commission was very engaged and asked questions or made comments on the majority of public witness statements. Many of the public witness statements aligned with SACE’s own testimony, and we’re glad so many citizens came out to speak! The final 2013 IRP hearing will be held on June 18-19, 2013.

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