Georgia Power energy generating plan heavy on gas, renewables

ATLANTA – Georgia Power pledged Monday to close nearly all of its coal-burning power plants and double its renewable energy generating capacity.

In documents filed with the state Public Service Commission (PSC), the Atlanta-based utility proposed retiring 12 coal-burning units by 2028, leaving only two units at Plant Bowen near Cartersville, which would be closed no later than 2035.

At the same time, the company plans to add 6,000 megawatts of renewable energy to its power generation portfolio, also by 2035. One megawatt is enough electricity to power 813 average homes.

Relying less on coal and more on solar power and other forms of renewable energy is being driven both by ever-tightening federal regulation of carbon-pollution emitting coal and by market forces, said Chris Womack, Georgia Power’s chairman, president and CEO.

“As operating coal [plants] has gotten more expensive, we’ve seen additional competitiveness of solar,” he said.

Georgia Power files an updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the PSC every three years outlining the sources of power generation it intends to rely on to meet the demands of its 2.7 million customers for the next 20 years.

While Georgia Power ups its commitment to renewable energy in the 2022 IRP, natural gas will continue to play a key role.

The IRP calls for the utility to acquire 2,356 megawatts of gas through power-purchasing agreements with other utilities.

“Renewable resources are mainly intermittent,” Womack said. “We need energy resources available around the clock.”

Georgia Power also plans to help offset the intermittent nature of renewable power by stepping up its commitment to battery storage, a technology the company first deployed with its last IRP.

In 2019, Georgia Power rolled out its first 80 megawatts of renewable power obtained through battery storage. The new IRP calls for exponentially increasing its development of battery storage to 1,000 megawatts by 2030.

The new IRP also calls for experimenting with “tall wind” technology by building wind turbines 140 meters to 165 meters high.

“At lower altitudes, you don’t get much wind in Georgia,” Womack said.

A spokeswoman with the Sierra Club said the IRP is a “step in the right direction.”

But Charline Whyte, a senior representative for the group’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Georgia, said the plan relies too much on natural gas.

“It’s time for Georgia Power to stop clinging to fossil fuel plants that pollute our air and water, needlessly increase costs for customers, and directly damage our climate,” she said. “Transitioning to clean energy would save customers money immediately, invest in our local economy, and provide good jobs here in Georgia.”

The 2022 IRP will be the subject of PSC hearings during the next few months, with a commission vote expected during the summer.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Less coal, more solar likely in next Georgia Power energy production plan

Solar farms are springing up across rural Georgia as the state steps up its commitement to renewable energy.

ATLANTA – Georgia Power is expected to announce the next step toward reducing its dependence on coal Monday when it unveils its latest long-term plan for electrical generation.

The Atlanta-based utility releases an updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) every three years outlining the sources of power generation it intends to rely on to meet customer demands for the next 20 years. The IRP is subject to approval by the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC).

Georgia Power tipped its hand in November when Tom Fanning, CEO of Georgia Power parent Southern Co., announced plans to close most of Georgia Power’s coal-burning units at plants Scherer, Bowen and Wansley.

“We expect to see that in the IRP,” said Neil Sardana, Georgia organizer for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

For the last decade, the debate between Georgia Power and environmental advocates hasn’t been over whether the utility should use less coal for power generation but how large the reduction should be.

Market forces, technological progress and the political climate have combined to make carbon pollution-emitting coal less tenable for Georgia Power and other utilities across the country.

After Georgia Power submitted its last IRP in 2019, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy called for the company to take a more aggressive approach toward weaning itself from coal.

“Given how much more renewable energy has progressed in terms of cost and efficiency, there is significant room for expansion of clean energy.” Sardana said. “Renewable energy – solar in particular – is getting to the point where it’s affordable. Massive amounts of solar could be brought into the grid and still remain competitive.”

Pro-coal former President Donald Trump gave coal a respite by issuing an executive order repealing the Clean Power Plan imposed during the Obama administration, which ordered utilities to reduce carbon emissions. But President Joe Biden set an ambitious goal during his first year in office with a plan calling for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030.

With the writing on the wall when it comes to coal, the PSC has encouraged Georgia Power to commit more resources to renewable energy.

In its 2019 IRP vote, the commission required the utility to add 2,210 megawatts of renewable power to its portfolio of electricity generating sources, just more than double the 1,000 additional megawatts Georgia Power had proposed.

As a result, Georgia has cracked the Top 10 among the states in solar installations and ranked No. 1 in solar jobs growth in 2019, according to The Solar Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.

While Georgia Power’s increased investment in renewable energy in the 2019 IRP represented a continuation of an earlier commitment, the utility made its initial foray into battery storage technology.

Georgia Power initially offered to develop 50 megawatts of energy using battery storage, and the PSC later increased that target to 80 megawatts.

The biggest obstacle to development of renewable energy has been its intermittent nature. Solar energy can only be generated when it’s sunny, while wind energy requires wind.

Saldana said battery storage solves that issue, and he’s looking to Georgia Power to double down on the technology in the new IRP.

“Batteries are going to be what allows us to truly mainstream the move to solar,” he said.

Saldana said an effective distributed network of battery storage also would help prevent major power outages, which not only inconvenience customers but impact local economies.

The PSC will hold hearings on Georgia Power’s 2022 IRP during next few months, with a vote likely this summer.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia Lottery posts second-quarter record profit

ATLANTA – The Georgia Lottery Corp. generated $376.5 million in profits during the last three months of last year, a record for the second quarter of a state fiscal year.

That brought the total lottery proceeds transferred to education during the first half of fiscal 2022 to $741.3 million.

“With their largest Q2 transfer ever, the Georgia Lottery continues to make an immeasurable impact on the lives of Georgia’s students and their families,” Gov. Brian Kemp said.

“Our first half achievements provide a solid start to the fiscal year, as we continue to work diligently for Georgia’s students and their families, who rely on HOPE and Pre-K,” added Gretchen Corbin, president and CEO of the Georgia Lottery.

Since Georgia voters approved the lottery in a referendum 30 years ago, it has returned more than $24.6 billion to fund the HOPE Scholarship and Pre-K programs.

More than 2 million students have received HOPE, and more than 1.6 million 4-year-olds have attended pre-kindergarten classes.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Bill to target gaps in criminal justice data reporting

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – Republicans in the Georgia Senate will introduce legislation next week aimed at plugging significant gaps in the state’s criminal justice database.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, would modernize the current system with input from the various criminal justice agencies involved in implementing the proposed changes.

“As the nation grapples with rising crime, all facets of the judicial system must be properly equipped to respond immediately and effectively,” said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, the Senate’s presiding officer. “Current reporting data shows unacceptable metrics that pose a major public safety risk for communities.” 

“Solving this ongoing issue is critical to keeping our communities and crime victims safe,” Gov. Brian Kemp added. “When communication breakdowns exist between law enforcement, crime victims, prosecutors, judges, and potential employers, then justice cannot be effectively served.”

The Criminal Record Responsibility Act would update requirements for submitting documents to the Georgia Crime Information Center and remove unnecessary, outdated steps from the submission process.

The bill also would empower the Council of Superior Court Clerks to set rules for electronic filings and create a grant program to help local governments responsible for submitting data to the system pay for technological upgrades.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

First responders PTSD bill gets first airing in Georgia House

Georgia Rep. Gregg Kennard

ATLANTA – Letting first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) collect workers’ compensation to pay for their treatment would ensure mental illness is treated the same as physical injury, supporters told Georgia lawmakers Wednesday.

But the fate of House Bill 855 remained uncertain after Rep. Bill Werkheiser, R-Glennville, chairman of the House Industry & Labor Committee, announced he would refer it for vetting to a 110-member council that advises the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.

The committee discussed the legislation for more than 90 minutes without voting on it, hearing emotional testimony from first responders who have suffered PTSD.

Sponsored by Rep. Gregg Kennard, D-Lawrenceville, the bill was inspired by Ashley Wilson, a Gwinnett County police officer struck by PTSD after her partner was shot multiple times and died in her arms.

“I went from being a triathlete to someone who struggled to get off the couch and brush my teeth,” she told the committee.

Wilson ended up spending more than $20,000 and using up hours of leave time to get treatment.

But other supporters of Kennard’s bill said many first responders with PTSD don’t get help because Georgia’s workers’ comp law doesn’t cover PTSD unless accompanied by a physical injury, and they can’t afford the cost of treatment.

In the most extreme cases, those who don’t get help turn to suicide. The bill’s supporters cited statistics showing more police officers are dying by their own hands than in the line of duty.

“This has become an epidemic just like COVID,” said Chad Black, chairman of the Georgia EMS Association. “Something has to be done.”

The bill enjoys several advantages that appear to give it a good shot at passing. It has bipartisan sponsorship in the House, and Speaker David Ralston has made improving access to mental health services in Georgia a top priority for the 2022 legislative session.

Supporters who testified in favor of the measure Wednesday included Will Warihay, a workers’ comp lawyer.

He said Georgia’s workers’ comp system works well enough that he trusts it to sniff out false PTSD claims.

But Dan Kniffen, another lawyer who represents Georgia cities and counties in workers’ comp cases, warned that covering first responders’ PTSD claims through workers’ comp would touch off a wave of costly litigation.

“We’re not here to say these situations don’t happen or that these people don’t need help,” he said. “The question is whether the benefit should be under workers’ comp.”

Rep. Jodi Lott, R-Evans, suggested the state Office of Public Safety Support, which the General Assembly created in 2018, is currently an underused resource that operates a peer support program that could help traumatized first responders.

But Kennard argued peer support might not be enough for those suffering the most severe cases of PTSD.

“If a police officer gets shot, they would need a lot more than peer support,” he said.

Cosponsors of Kennard’s bill include Reps. Bill Hitchens, R-Rincon, a former director of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, and Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus, a former minority whip in the House.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.