Environmental groups criticize Georgia Power’s energy plan, encourage public comment

Georgia Power is not doing enough to both fight climate change and lower our power bills at the same time by transitioning to clean energy, according to a coalition of environmental organizations who held a town hall meeting at Creature Comforts in downtown Athens last week.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Environment Georgia, 100% Athens, 100% Winterville, the Athens Land Trust and other groups organized last week’s town hall to spread awareness about Georgia Power’s Integrated Resource Plan, which guides Georgia’s long-term energy policies. Georgia Power’s plan, which is updated every three years, must be approved by the Public Service Commission, a five-person body of elected officials who in theory represent the public interest.

The Integrated Resource Plan determines not only what energy sources Georgia Power will use in coming years (coal, natural gas, solar, etc), but also how much the company will invest in energy efficiency and what they will spend to clean up energy-related waste like coal ash pollution.

“This plan impacts household bills and our environment,” said Cary Ritzler, organizer with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “It decides how much renewable energy Georgia Power will use and when.”

Clean Energy Town Hall
Cary Ritzler, organizer with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, speaking at Creature Comforts Brewery.

Anyone can give an official comment to the Public Service Commission on the Integrated Resource Plan, but in the past, business interests like the Georgia Industrial Group and Georgia Power itself have been some of the biggest groups involved in the discussions. But that may be changing, with solar companies and environmental organizations pushing to play a bigger role in the shaping of this plan now than in years past.

For example, Georgia Power’s proposed 2022 plan has been criticized by environmental groups like the Sierra Club on a range of issues. The Sierra Club argues that Georgia Power should “aggressively” end the burning of coal and not seek to replace it by burning natural gas, which is environmentally destructive and is mostly harvested through hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”). While they support the company’s proposed 1,000 megawatts of new solar-powered battery storage in the plan as “a good start,” they strongly encourage an expansion of the “net metering” program which pays small solar power producers for the energy they produce.

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The Sierra Club also argues that Georgia Power is not investing enough in energy efficiency, which would benefit low-income Georgians the most by reducing our power bills. They also say the company should be held responsible for cleaning up their own coal ash pollution instead of passing these costs on to customers.

Read the Sierra Club’s full analysis of Georgia Power’s plan.

How to comment on the 2022 Integrated Resource Plan

You can comment on Georgia Power’s proposed plan here. Fill in the form with the following information:

Docket Number: 44160 and 44161

Agenda Item: Integrated Resource Plan

Position: No Position/Comments Only

Check here to read a sample comment before you submit your own. The next hearing on this topic is on May 25, but they should be ongoing throughout the month of June (so if you miss the May 25 date, it’s not a big deal).

Another way to affect Georgia’s future energy policy – vote!

Even if a large number of Georgia residents comment on the plan (which you should!), the Republican-controlled Public Service Commission may still choose to support corporate profits over the public interest. 

Tim Echols, Public Service Commissioner
Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols (R)

If all else fails, voters do have another way to ensure that Georgia Power lives up to its social and environmental responsibilities over the long-term. We can do that by changing the people sitting on the Public Service Commission itself. Two seats on this body, which are currently held by Tim Echols (R) and Fitz Johnson (R), are up for election on November 1, 2022.

In a comment to APN, Echols said Georgia Power’s plan would likely add “another massive tranche of solar” to go along with the 1,000 megawatts of battery storage. He also said that they have a hydrogen energy pilot program “on tap.” Echols has been a supporter of solar energy in office and was the Public Service Commissioner who first motioned to begin Georgia’s solar net metering program.

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