Author: John Sibley
On June 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants that will hopefully satisfy the concerns of most industries, advocates and state-level regulators. The Plan acknowledges that states have to generate the electricity they need and therefore sets goals for each state to reduce its pollution-to-power ratio by the year 2030. Georgia’s goal is 834 pounds of CO2 emissions per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, a 44 percent drop from our 2012 ratio.
The Plan gives each state the flexibility to choose any pathway to meet its goal. Specific options outlined in the Plan include (1) increasing use of existing natural gas combined-cycle power plants, (2) improving efficiency at existing coal power plants, (3) expanding use of renewable energy and nuclear power, and (4) increasing energy efficiency of businesses and homes. Southface believes Georgia is well positioned to achieve its 2030 goal.
Georgia has 8,355 megawatts (MW) of underutilized natural gas combined-cycle plants. We can increase usage of these plants significantly and reduce coal production accordingly. In addition, the completion of the new Plant Vogtle nuclear reactors will reduce coal generation further. EPA projects that Georgia can improve the efficiency of coal plants in the state by six percent. This seems reasonable. Georgia Power operates eight coal plants, the newest of which is 25 years old. These are all workable steps.
Renewable energy is also a viable pathway. Southface’s GeorgiaEnergyData.org website shows that Georgia’s solar capacity today (more than 110 MW) has quintupled since 2012. Based on current plans, Georgia should have at least 930 MW of solar by 2017. Georgia Power will also purchase 250 MW of wind energy from Oklahoma. These deals prove that solar and wind power is available and affordable. There is good reason to buy a lot more of both.
Regarding the energy efficiency of businesses and homes, the Plan suggests expansion of programs to achieve annual savings equal to 1.5 percent of 2012 electricity sales, a level that has already been achieved in some states. Georgia Power’s energy efficiency programs are set to achieve about 0.4 percent annual savings by 2016. Georgia’s EMCs and municipal utilities, which serve about half the state, are generally not as far along as Georgia Power. This represents an opportunity for Georgia to expand energy efficiency programs and save customers money on their power bills.
We have the skills and know-how to achieve this goal. Georgia already boasts a robust clean energy economy. Southface’s 2013 Georgia Clean Energy Industry Census shows more than 600 clean energy firms in the state. About two-thirds of these firms provided employment and sales data; these firms employ over 9,700 full-time personnel and generated at least $2.6 billion in revenues. Georgia can tap into this home-grown clean energy expertise to help the state meet its 2030 goal.