Environment

Activists Say Utilities — Including Georgia Power — Aren’t Moving Away From Coal Fast Enough

The Sierra Club says utilities, including Georgia Power, should have plans to phase out all of their coal by 2030 and be doing more to ramp up renewable energy sources.
The Sierra Club says utilities, including Georgia Power, should have plans to phase out all of their coal by 2030 and be doing more to ramp up renewable energy sources.
Credit Branden Camp / Associated PRess file
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Electric utilities around the country aren’t on pace to meet their own climate commitments, according to a report from the Sierra Club.

Georgia Power itself has not made a climate pledge, but its parent company, Atlanta-based Southern Company, has.

Last year, Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning announced a new goal: to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“To achieve this goal, we will continue to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and continue our long-term commitment to energy efficiency,” he said at the company’s annual general meeting in May.

Other utilities have made similar promises, and President Joe Biden has set a goal for a carbon-free power sector by 2035.

The Sierra Club says companies aren’t moving fast enough. The advocacy group says utilities, including Georgia Power, should have plans to phase out all of their coal by 2030 and be doing more to ramp up renewable energy sources.

For its report, released earlier this week, the Sierra Club looked at what utilities are actually planning, versus what they’ve promised, said Leah Stokes, a public policy professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara who contributed to the report.

“Words are not the same as actions, and we have to be going back to the basics here, which is looking at the actions,” she said on a teleconference. “We cannot just rely on voluntary corporate pledges from utilities.”

Stokes said she’d like to see government policies that require utilities to add more renewable power, like solar and wind.

Some states have rules like that. Georgia does not, though even without mandates, the state has seen big growth in its solar industry.

According to a Georgia Power spokesman, within the next few years, the company’s renewable capacity will be close to a quarter of its portfolio, and the company has cut its coal capacity to about half of what it was in 2005.

Georgia is also the only state in the nation with more nuclear power coming online. Nuclear — slow and costly to build — does not generate carbon emissions once it’s up and running.

While the Sierra Club report dings utilities for planning to build natural gas plants and for lacking coal plant closure plans, and credits them for renewable energy plans, it doesn’t factor in nuclear power at all. Partially, the group said, because there’s only the one nuclear expansion in the country.

A spokesman for Southern Company said the company is working toward its 2050 goal, and anticipates beating an intermediate goal of 50% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030.

“Through the first nine months of 2020, over one-third of our energy supply was from zero carbon resources and coal represented just 16 percent. We continue to project that for the full year generation from coal could be below 20 percent for the first time in modern history,” Schuyler Baehman wrote in an email.

Georgia Power’s long-range plans are reviewed every three years by the Georgia Public Service Commission. The next integrated resource plan is up for approval in 2022.

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