Southern CEO doesn’t see much of a role for renewables

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In recent weeks, Georgia Power has publicized its efforts to bring in more electricity from alternative sources by announcing major contracts with companies that generate power through solar, wind and biomass facilities.

The head of Georgia Power’s parent firm, the Southern Co., evidently did not get the memo about renewable energy sources.

In a speech to the Atlanta Press Club Thursday, Southern CEO Tom Fanning greatly downplayed the possibility that electricity from renewable sources would ever be more than a “niche” product and lamented his industry’s decreasing reliance on coal-fired power generation facilities.

“Renewables?” Fanning asked rhetorically. “It is going to remain a niche for some time.”

“It’s an intermittent resource,” he said. “What do you do if the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine? . . . Solar, on its own, doesn’t make a lot of sense, particularly from a cost standpoint.”

Fanning contended that renewables are only available in the first place because of the massive tax breaks they bring. “If you take away those tax benefits, I’m not sure this industry would survive,” he said.

Fanning isn’t very fond of natural gas either, even though Southern’s operating companies are generating a larger percentage of power to their customers from gas-fired plants.

At a couple of points in his speech, Fanning was skeptical that the price of natural gas will stay at its current low levels.

“There is no assurance it’s going to be that way forever,” he said of gas prices. “Natural gas is a great thing, it is not a panacea.”

Fanning displayed much more enthusiasm about nuclear power plants – Georgia Power is building two new reactors at Plant Vogtle – and coal-fired facilities, some of which are being phased out of operation by the utility giant.

“The United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal – we’re sitting on 28 percent of the world’s reserves,” he said.

Fanning said that much of America’s coal is being exported to other countries and blamed that trend on “over-reaching regulation” by the EPA.

“How can we keep it in the United States?” he asked. “We can’t afford to deal such a valuable resource out of the energy portfolio of America.”

© 2013 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: coal-fired power plants , Georgia Power , natural gas , renewable energy , Southern Co. , Tom Fanning