Georgia Power plans to eliminate coal and double solar by 2035

Georgia Power plans to close all of its remaining coal-fired power plants by 2035 and add more solar power. (AP Photo/David Tulis)

Georgia Power plans to close all of its remaining coal-fired power plants by 2035 and add more solar power.

The company filed its long-range energy plan with Georgia regulators on Monday. In the Integrated Resource Plan [IRP], which the company files every three years, Georgia Power lays out how much electricity demand it expects in the future, and how it plans to generate it.

The plan, from the state’s largest utility, has a bearing on how Georgia — which does not mandate renewable energy use — responds to climate change. The electricity sectors account for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, the second-largest contributor after transportation, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  

Georgia Power president and CEO Chris Womack said the company is making investments in resilience and transforming its fleet.

“We are showing how we are growing the level of renewable energy in the state and responding to the fast-changing needs of our customers,” Womack said in an interview with WABE.

Still, some would like them to move faster. Charline Whyte, with the Sierra Club in Georgia, wrote in a statement that the plan is “a step in the right direction, but doesn’t go big enough.”

Georgia Power plans to shut down its remaining coal units over the next several years — including some this year, others by 2027 or 2028, and the final units by 2035. That includes closures at two of the largest coal-fired power plants in the country: Plant Scherer in Juliette, Georgia, and Plant Bowen in Euharlee, Georgia.

Atlanta-based Southern Company, the parent company of Georgia Power, had announced last year that it would close about half of its coal fleet across the utilities that it owns.

Georgia Power also proposes to add more large-scale solar farms by 2029 and to double the amount of solar it already has by 2035.

And the utility plans to use more natural gas. Womack said that he sees it as part of the company’s long-term strategy.

“There has to be baseload resources available recognizing that currently a lot of renewable resources are intermittent,” he said. “As we look into the future, we think natural gas is a resource that we’ll need to have as a part of our system.”

That will get pushback from environmental groups when public hearings begin on the plan.

“We welcome Georgia Power’s plans for additional coal retirements, but its proposal to add over 2300 MW of new gas capacity through power purchase agreements is deeply concerning and fails to align with Southern Company’s commitments to get to zero carbon by 2050,” Jill Kysor, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in an email.

Climate advocates and scientists say it’s important to move away from polluting sources of energy as quickly as possible, to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

And Georgia Power realizes that customers — including large commercial and industrial customers — have made climate pledges of their own.

“A growing number of new and existing customers are seeking clean energy solutions, with some focused on a zero-carbon energy supply. Thus, a lower-carbon mix of energy resources that benefits all customers is also becoming increasingly important for the community and economic development of the state of Georgia,” the company wrote in the IRP.  

The Public Service Commission will hold hearings on the plan. Industry and advocacy groups — and any people who join in for public comment — will be able to weigh in before the commissioners make their final decision.