Southern Co. sets net-zero carbon emissions goal

Southern Co. has been reducing its reliance on coal for the past decade.

ATLANTA – Atlanta-based Southern Co. is taking the next step toward ending its reliance on fossil fuels as a source of electrical generation.

Two years after Georgia Power’s parent company committed to a goal of “low- to no-carbon” by 2050, Southern Chairman, President and CEO Tom Fanning announced Wednesday the utility giant’s new goal is to achieve “net-zero” carbon emissions by that target year.

During Southern’s annual shareholders meeting, Fanning also reaffirmed the company’s intermediate goal of a 50% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 2007 levels by 2030.

Driven primarily by low natural gas prices and tougher government regulations on carbon, Southern’s carbon emissions have steadily decreased over the past decade as the company began retiring some of its coal-burning power plants. During the first quarter of this year, the portion of the utility’s energy mix derived from coal fell to just 13%, down from 22% last year.

As a result, the company now expects to achieve the 50% reduction goal well in advance of 2030, possibly as early as 2025.

“I continue to be confident that we are prepared and well-positioned to meet the needs of our customers, employees, communities and investors well into the future and will succeed in the transition to a net-zero carbon future,” Fanning said. “As always, we are committed to providing clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy to the customers we are privileged to serve.”

Fanning said reaching the net-zero goal will involve continuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing Southern’s commitment to energy efficiency.

Southern also plans to incorporate negative carbon solutions, including technology-based approaches such as direct air capture of carbon as well as natural methods like planting trees in areas that lack forests, he said.

Kurt Ebersbach, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Southern’s new goal of net-zero carbon emissions is an improvement over its previous target of low- to no-carbon because it’s more specific.

“Net zero fits more cleanly within the international framework, wherein it’s commonly said that in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world needs to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050,” Ebersbach said. “So on balance, while many details remain unanswered about how they plan to get to net zero, this is a good thing.”

But Stephen Stetson, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said Southern’s plan isn’t aggressive enough considering the pace of global climate change.

“We don’t have three decades to wait,” he said. “The urgency of the moment requires more than tree planning and long-term R&D plans.”

Fanning said Southern Co. will update its progress in a report to be issued later this year.

Northwest Georgia lands Chinese flooring company jobs, U.S. headquarters

Gov. Brian Kemp

ATLANTA – A Chinese flooring company will open its first U.S. headquarters and manufacturing plant in Northwest Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday.

Huali Floors will create at least 315 jobs with an investment of $27 million at a site in Murray County.

The company is a leading manufacturer of resilient flooring, a middle ground between carpeting and hardwood or stone. Its products include vinyl tiles and stone-plastic and wood-plastic composite flooring.

“It’s a testament to Georgia’s logistics network and readily available workforce when an innovative company like Huali Floors chooses Georgia to establish their first U.S. manufacturing operations,” Kemp said. “I am confident Huali will find success in the Peach State.”

Philip Yuan, president of Huali Group, cited Northwest Georgia’s reputation as a flooring manufacturing center in the company’s decision to locate in the region. Georgia was the nation’s No.-1 exporter of floor covering products last year, with a total export value of $485.4 million.

“We want to be part of that spirit,” Yuan said. “We saw and felt the strength of the community throughout the project process.”

Huali Floors employs more than 2,000 full-time workers, with annual revenue exceeding $360 million. The company uses the Port of Savannah and plans to ship its products to the coast by rail from the Appalachian Regional Port near Chatsworth.

Jobs at the new headquarters and plant will involve administration, manufacturing and research and development. Individuals interested in employment opportunities should click on https://murraycountychamber.org/hfusa/.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Global Commerce Division worked on the project in partnership with the state Department of Labor’s Quick Start program, the Georgia Ports Authority, the Murray County Industrial Development Authority, Georgia EMC and Georgia Power Co.

Georgia business groups endorse hate-crimes bill

Georgia Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, sponsored a hate-crimes bill the state House of Representatives passed last year.

Two business organizations with major political clout under the Gold Dome are asking the General Assembly to pass a hate-crimes bill when lawmakers return to the Capitol next month.

The heads of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Metro Atlanta Chamber issued a joint statement Wednesday praising last year’s bipartisan passage in the state House of Representatives of legislation sponsored by Georgia Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, and urging the Georgia Senate to follow suit.

“Recent support from statewide leaders further demonstrates that momentum is growing for Georgia to join the 45 other states that already have these laws on the books,” wrote Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and Hala Moddelmog, president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

“When the Georgia General Assembly reconvenes in June, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber urge swift passage of hate crimes legislation that aligns our state’s laws with our values.” 

The statewide momentum for the hate-crimes bill the two chamber leaders cite stems from the widespread outrage following the arrests of a father and son in Glynn County earlier this month in the February shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, who was jogging in their neighborhood. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation made a third arrest in the case last week.

The two chambers of commerce have helped lead the opposition in recent years to legislative attempts to pass a religious liberty bill in Georgia, arguing it would hurt Georgia’s image as a business-friendly state by fostering same-sex discrimination. Business leaders praised then-Gov. Nathan Deal for vetoing religious liberty legislation that made it through the General Assembly in 2016.

House Bill 426 cleared the House of Representatives last year 96-64, primarily supported by Democrats but with some Republican support, including Efstration and GOP cosponsors Ron Stephens of Savannah and Deborah Silcox of Sandy Springs.

The bill allows additional penalties for criminal defendants if it is determined the victim was selected based on his or her “race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.”

FAA announces new timetable for Spaceport Camden

ATLANTA – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has revised its review schedule for a planned commercial spaceport in southeastern Georgia that will take the process into the fall of next year.

The delayed timetable for Spaceport Camden is to allow additional time to revise an environmental impact study (EIS) to take into account a significant change in the design of the project.

Officials in Camden County submitted a revised license application to the FAA in January that calls for launching only small rockets from the site rather than the medium-to-large rockets envisioned in the original plan.

Conservation and environmental groups opposed to the spaceport sent a letter in February asking the FAA to order the revised EIS.

“The county’s decision to focus on risky, unproven small rockets requires a thorough environmental review and the opportunity for public input,” Brian Gist, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Wednesday. “Camden County should recognize that this is the wrong place for a spaceport.”

Homeowners on nearby Little Cumberland Island have joined environmental critics in opposing the proposed spaceport as a threat to public safety.

Officials with the National Park Service have warned the spaceport could disrupt tourism at the popular Cumberland Island National Seashore, while the Defense Department has raised concerns over the proposed launch site’s proximity to the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base.

The project’s backers have countered that a commercial spaceport would represent a huge economic boost for southeastern Georgia and attract aerospace engineering graduates from Georgia Tech who otherwise likely would take their skills and earning power out of state. The project has been endorsed by Gov. Brian Kemp and the state’s congressional delegation.

While the FAA held two public hearings on the project last month in Kingsland, the new timetable will allow time for additional public input. The agency estimates a decision on whether to green light the spaceport won’t come until October 2021.

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Justice Department closes investigation of Loeffler, two other senators

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler speaks at the State Capitol after qualifying for the 2020 election on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – The Justice Department has dropped an investigation of stock transactions U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and two Senate colleagues made following a closed-door briefing in January on the looming coronavirus pandemic, Loeffler’s office confirmed Tuesday.

Loeffler, a wealthy Atlanta businesswoman, and Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., turned over documents to investigators after political opponents and media reports called attention to the buying and selling of millions of dollars in stocks by the three senators shortly after the briefing.

A fourth senator, Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, remains under investigation, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Loeffler has said the stock transactions were made by a third-party advisor without her input.

Last month, she liquidated her holdings in individual stocks and converted those assets into broader exchange-traded funds and mutual funds. At the time, she said she was doing so not because of any wrongdoing but to end the distraction over false allegations.

“Today’s clear exoneration by the Department of Justice affirms what Senator Loeffler has said all along – she did nothing wrong,” Loeffler campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson said Tuesday. “This was a politically motivated attack shamelessly promoted by the fake news media and her political opponents.”

Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Loeffler to the Senate last December to succeed retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson on an interim basis. To finish out Isakson’s six-term, she must win in November in a crowded “free-for-all” contest featuring 21 candidates, including both Republicans and Democrats.

The field of hopefuls includes U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, and – on the Democratic side – the Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church; Matt Lieberman, son of 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman of Connecticut; and former U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver of Augusta.