Georgia Power asks for state OK to tap more fossil fuels to meet demand it failed to forecast

Georgia Power sign at Plant McDonough-Atkinson in Cobb County accompanying article about restory powerGeorgia Power sign at Plant McDonough-Atkinson in Cobb County (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

October 30, 2023

Georgia Power’s always uneasy relationship with environmentalists is heating up again over the utility company’s plans to substantially expand its reliance on fossil fuels to generate electricity over the upcoming decade. 

Georgia Power is asking the Georgia Public Service Commission to extend agreements to purchase electricity from power plants in other states to build natural gas generators, and to increase solar energy capacity in order to meet a demand that is 17 times higher than the utility company anticipated in the 2022 long term plan.

Some of the state’s largest-ever industrial projects were public knowledge before the PSC approved the company’s current plan in July 2022. Hyundai Motor Group announced plans for a $4.3 billion electric battery plant near Savannah in May 2022, when Georgia Power’s current plan was still in the PSC review process. Rivian detailed plans for its $5 billion electric plan east of Atlanta in December 2021. 

Southern Environmental Law Center and other green energy advocates immediately sounded alarms over Georgia Power’s plans to add about 30% more fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gasses in natural gas and oil production.

Georgia Power’s revised Integrated Resource Plan calls for 6,600 megawatts of energy by 2030 than the version approved just last year in order to meet the demands of booming economic growth in manufacturing and maintain reliable service during severe weather.

In January 2022, Georgia Power’s predicted growth of 400 megawatts of energy source. Today, those projections anticipate the need for 6,600 megawatt by the end of the decade.

Georgia Power said it expects the energy demands will continue to grow through the mid-2030s, which will require working with the five-member GOP controlled commission to keep ahead of the pace. 

“If approved, this plan will enable the company to acquire the critical resources that are necessary to meet  the state’s near-term energy needs, support Georgia’s continued economic growth, and provide clean, safe, reliable, and affordable power for Georgia Power customers in the coming years,” the company wrote in revised long-range plan.

The Southern Environmental Law Center criticized Georgia Power for bypassing the regular three-year timeframe to renew integrated resource planning, which was scheduled for 2024.

Georgia Power’s revised long-term plans contradict Southern Company’s goal to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, said Jennifer Whitfield, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Whitfield said Georgia Power should make a greater effort to expand renewable energy such as solar power and battery storage instead of fossil fuels.

“We are deeply troubled Georgia Power is walking back the incremental steps it has taken in our state’s clean energy transition and instead doubling down on dirty, expensive fossil fuels,” Whitfield said. “It’s shocking that Georgia Power would ask to invest so heavily in methane gas just months after volatile fossil fuel prices caused a nearly $16 a month hike in customer bills.” 

New fossil fuel generators at Plant Yates, more solar capacity

On Friday, Georgia Power filed its updated 2022 Integrated Resource Plan that details the company’s goals for the next 20 years. Cost projections were redacted as trade secrets by the company. The PSC is expected in November to schedule the timeline for a case that will allow for expert testimony and hearings before state regulators vote on the proposal.

The revised Georgia Power plans ask the PSC to approve the construction of three fossil fuel gas and oil turbines at Plant Yates that the company projects will produce up to 1,400 megawatts of electricity for another 40 years. Two natural gas generators have been operating in Coweta County since 2015, where coal had been burned to produce electricity for decades.

 Georgia Power is also seeking to extend purchasing agreements for a natural gas-fired generator in Pace, Florida and to continue buying 750 megawatts of electricity from Mississippi Power, a Southern Company subsidiary. Southern Company is also the owner of Georgia Power.

The company now says it wants to increase solar capacity by another 200 megawatts to meet electricity needs of a new 200 megawatt solar battery storage facility.

Meanwhile, Plant Vogtle, located southeast of Augusta, will become the company’s largest source of electricity with two nuclear reactors expected to keep the lights on for one million homes in the years to come.

“This is a bait and switch for companies bringing green and renewable manufacturing jobs to our state, and a financial risk to families already saddled with some of the highest power bills in the country,” Whitfield said.

In July 2022, the PSC approved Georgia Power’s plans for an additional 2,300 megawatts of renewable energy resources over the next three years. The company at the time promoted that the plan would assist the company in reaching its long-term goal of adding 6,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2035, which would roughly double its portfolio of clean energy.

Georgia Power now provides electricity to 2.7 million customers in 155 of the state’s 159 counties. Heading into 2023, the utility’s energy mix was 48% gas and oil, 15% coal, 7% renewable 2% hydrogen.

It’s the wrong attitude in this day and age when we have so much other technology when Georgia is such a leader on solar and when there are other clean energy solutions. Bottom line there are places where we could seriously improve that would not have terrible climate impacts, would be much faster to deploy and more affordable for ratepayers.

– Environment Georgia Executive Director Jennette Gayer

In 2022, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that natural gas accounted for 40% of utility-scale electricity generation followed by 22% in renewables, 20%, in coal, and nuclear with 18%.

The Environmental Protection Agency is close to enforcing new regulations that would greatly reduce greenhouse gas pollution at fossil fuel facilities where coal and oil are burned to generate electricity.

Georgia Power is shutting down the majority of its coal burning units over the next several years, determining that the aging coal producing units are no longer economically viable in the long term.

Georgia Power said that its revised long-term plans will allow it to achieve net zero emissions by continuing to rely on natural gas and other technological advancements to provide an affordable low-carbon electricity supply.

The utility said it implores the PSC to quickly approve projects that will require an exhausting two-year process to bring online.

“Georgia has continued to experience rapid economic growth since the filing of our IRP in early 2022,” said Kim Greene, chairman, president, and CEO of Georgia Power. “Many businesses coming to the state are bringing large electrical demands at both a record scale and velocity.”

Environment Georgia is concerned that Georgia Power is pushing for more fossil fuels instead of focusing more on energy efficiency measures to reduce utility bills and reduce pressure on the electric grid. 

Since 2013, Georgia has ranked 7th in the nation for solar adoption growth while ranking 20th for total energy efficiency savings per household, according to data from Environment America.

“It’s the wrong attitude in this day and age when we have so much other technology when Georgia  is such a leader on solar and when there are other clean energy solutions,” Environment Georgia Executive Director Jennette Gayer said. “Bottom line there are places where we could seriously improve that would not have terrible climate impacts, would be much faster to deploy and more affordable for ratepayers.”

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