On July 21st, the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) will vote on a new energy plan, outlining how Georgia Power will generate our electricity over the next 20 years. The plan will have huge implications on some of our most pressing issues relating to public health, the economy, and the environment.
Unfortunately, the current proposal from Georgia Power falls far short in addressing the social and environmental damages of fossil fuels. Their plan aims to keep us heavily reliant on fossil fuels and puts Georgia Power behind in reaching its parent company’s commitment to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, there is still time for the PSC to step in
Earlier this month, 19 youth and student-led environmental organizations from across the state came together to demand a better plan for the people of Georgia. We submitted a joint statement to the PSC, urging the commissioners to adopt important amendments to further expand clean, renewable energy in our state. As young people in this state, we are the ones who will face the long-term impacts of the actions Georgia Power takes today.
We are urging the commission to expand Georgia Power’s commitment to solar well beyond what was proposed. This means securing greater investments in utility-scale solar projects and modernizing our electric grid to support future clean energy units. The PSC should also remove excessive fees and the cap on the net metering program that acts as a barrier for residents to install rooftop solar panels. These restrictions only serve to keep residents dependent on Georgia Power’s energy.
At present, solar energy accounts for only about 4.24% of Georgia’s electricity production. So, if Georgia Power intends to meet Southern Company’s commitment to net zero emissions, it will need to add far more than the proposed 2,300 MW of new solar power (only equal to about 2% of Georgia’s electricity generation) in the next three years.
We also advocate for the commissioners to accelerate the closure of coal plants and replace them with solar, not natural gas. If the closure of these plants is further delayed, they will continue to poison our air and water and destabilize our climate with greenhouse gasses. Our state will also miss out on the growing green economy. The U.S. solar industry creates 2.7 times as many jobs as fossil fuels per million dollars invested. The choice is clear: expanding clean energy will bring us cleaner air and water, a healthier planet, and a more robust economy.
Beyond solar, we also urge the commission to expand energy-efficiency programs, like home weatherization assistance. These programs pay for themselves and are a powerful tool to reduce energy-related emissions in our state. They also provide substantial financial relief for low-income residents, which is long overdue, by providing the same amount of energy at a cheaper rate. As Georgia Watch Executive Director Liz Coyle said, “the cleanest, cheapest source of energy is that which is not produced.” Energy efficiency is better for both our planet and our wallets, and we must establish a higher set of efficiency targets for Georgia Power’s long-range plan.
For any Georgia citizens who want to advocate for more sustainable and profitable energy production in our state, we encourage you let the Georgia Public Service Commission hear your voice. The Commissioners are elected representatives and have a duty to serve the people of Georgia.
Georgia’s Public Service Commission has an opportunity to advance a legacy of sustainability and bolster our state’s leadership in energy innovation throughout the Southeast. With climate action at the federal level seeming increasingly unlikely, we need our state governments to step up and do their part. We can unlock the enormous potential of solar in our state while avoiding the damage of fossil fuels. Now is the time to incorporate bolder provisions for solar power and energy efficiency in Georgia Power’s long-range plan, not only for the welfare of our present communities, but also for the security of future generations.
This story was written by Mark Putman, Noah Guthrie, and David Weber, opinion writers for the Georgia Recorder, where this story first appeared.