Environment, News

Advocates Say Zero Carbon Energy From Southern Utilities Is Possible By 2035

Decatur Self Storage's array of solar cells are installed on the flat roof of the building as they capture solar energy and convert it to electrical energy for the storage facility, in in Decatur, Ga. Owner Mike Easterwood also returns excess electricity to the Georgia Power Company electrical grid in exchange for a reduced monthly power rate.
Decatur Self Storage's array of solar cells are installed on the flat roof of the building as they capture solar energy and convert it to electrical energy for the storage facility, in in Decatur, Ga. Owner Mike Easterwood also returns excess electricity to the Georgia Power Company electrical grid in exchange for a reduced monthly power rate.
Credit David Tulis / AP Photo
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Clean energy advocates say it’s possible for Georgia Power and other southern utilities to eliminate carbon emissions by 2035.

President Joe Biden has set that year as a goal for the electricity sector for addressing climate change, and his administration has called for a federal clean energy standard as part of its infrastructure plan.

In a report released Tuesday, the advocacy group Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, or SACE, said that if the federal government does set a requirement, utilities in the South would be able to comply with it.

“We really wanted to look at, what does a policy like this look like in the Southeast,” said Maggie Shober, director of utility reform at SACE.

More than half the states have some kind of renewable standard, but few of those states are in the South, she said.

“We can shift the conversation away from, ‘Can we do this?’ and towards, ‘How can we do this?’” she said.

SACE suggests different options for utilities in its report. One pathway it puts forth for Georgia Power has more of an emphasis on rooftop solar and energy efficiency; another suggests more larger-scale solar and offshore wind.

Georgia does not have a renewable energy standard but has still seen a boom in solar power over the past several years.

“The company already has one of the largest voluntary renewable portfolios in the country,” Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft wrote in an email.

Georgia Power’s parent company, Southern Company, has set a goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. It already achieved an interim goal, years ahead of schedule.

Kraft said Georgia Power has lowered its carbon footprint by 60% compared to 2007 levels and plans to increase renewables to make up more than a fifth of its energy mix.

Last month, Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning said that when it comes to closing coal-fired power plants, all the plants are “on the table.” He’s also said that he has spoken with the Biden administration about its goals, and he’s committed to working with the federal government.

Shober acknowledged that achieving zero emissions by 2035 would be a big shift for utilities, both in how they work day-to-day and also in how they do their long-range planning. But she said she also thinks it’s feasible.

“That’s a big reason why we did this analysis to show, hey, this is possible, these are things that are within the realm of possibility here,” she said.

Georgia Power’s next long-range planning update is due next year.

Shober says she’d like to see utilities start working towards the 2035 goal sooner rather than later.

“The climate crisis is already costing the US hundreds of billion dollars each year, and those costs will only continue to escalate,” she said.