Southern Co., Georgia Power are burned by solar critics

The Southern Co. and its largest operating subsidiary, Georgia Power, were the targets of criticism this week in two different venues over the utility giant’s use of renewable energy for the generation of electricity.

Georgia Power, which is in the process of revising its integrated resource plan (IRP) to meet the state’s future electricity needs, was slammed by critics during a hearing before the Public Service Commission.

Advocates of solar energy and representatives of one of the state’s largest tea party organizations both said the utility should be relying more heavily on solar energy to provide electricity to its customers.

One of Georgia Power’s staunchest critics was Robert E. Green, the president of Georgia Solar Utilities, which has been trying to persuade the PSC to approve a solar farm that would generate 500 megawatts of electricity. To that end, he is asking the PSC to require Georgia Power to add 500 megawatts of solar resources to its long-range plan.

“Georgia Power’s 2013 IRP, which proposes no new solar capacity for the next 20 years, harms ratepayers and the people of Georgia by ignoring the new realities of solar energy in our state,” Green contended.

“The company is failing to save money and lower risks for ratepayers by diversifying its generation mix with no-fuel-cost solar energy,” Green added.

Georgia Power officials in recent months have publicized several agreements through which the utility will purchase relatively small amounts of electricity from solar, wind and biomass generation companies.

“We continue to implement a strategy that diversifies our generation portfolio through renewable sources that are cost-effective for our customers,” Georgia Power President Paul Bowers said when the biomass agreement was announced last week.

Georgia Power’s stated commitment to renewable energy has been undercut on several occasions by the head of its own parent company, however.

In his public appearances, Southern Co. CEO Tom Fanning lauds the generation of electricity from nuclear and coal-fired generators but demeans electricity from renewable sources as a “niche” product that, in his view, will never amount to much.

“What do you do if the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine?” Fanning said in a speech to the Atlanta Press Club just two days after Georgia Power announced the biomass agreement. “Solar, on its own, doesn’t make a lot of sense, particularly from a cost standpoint.”

Fanning had to contend with more pointed questions this week at the annual meeting of Southern Co. shareholders, which was held at Pine Mountain.

Linda St. Martin, the president of Mississippians for Affordable Energy, argued that Southern Co., “instead of embracing the future, is trying to drag us back to the 1870s with all this coal and should be doing something to promote solar.” Fanning replied that he was “bullish” on renewables.

Fanning also had to respond to questions about another Southern Co. subsidiary, Mississippi Power, whose CEO abruptly retired this week after it was disclosed that he had withheld documents from the Mississippi PSC about large cost overruns at a coal-fired plant being built in Kemper County.

Mississippi Power said Ed Day, the former CEO, has been replaced by Ed Holland, who had been Southern Co.’s head lawyer. The utility also said that Plant Ratcliffe was an additional $540 million over budget, bringing the total cost of the facility to $4.3 billion – the latest $540 million overrun will be eaten by the company’s shareholders.

Fanning said the Kemper County facility was still financially viable.

© 2013 by The Georgia Report



Tags: coal-fired power plants , Georgia Power , Mississippi Power , renewable energy , Robert E. Green , solar energy , Southern Co. , Tom Fanning