Georgia Chamber CEO Chris Clark: The Future of Energy
Friday, October 30th, 2020
I recently participated in the Energy Forward virtual forum produced by Gas South and Cobb EMC. The discussion was eye opening and the take-away clear. Energy plays a more critical role than ever in site selection decisions and job growth. In many ways, energy investments are actually creating and supporting a “New Georgia Economy.” As we watch in horror at the rolling blackouts on the West Coast, the energy debates in Europe and the high cost of power in the Northeast, the work of Georgia’s energy utilities deserves praise and appreciation.
Our state’s business and political leaders, along with the Public Service Commission, have been critically important in creating a vibrant energy market throughout Georgia. Energy policy leadership is difficult as evidenced in many other regions where ideology supplants sound policy development and consumers have paid the price. PSC Commissioners like Bubba McDonald and Jason Shaw have led us with deliberate, consumer-focused policies which maintain competitive pricing and world class reliability. As such, we have seen rapid, market-driven expansion of renewable resources.
Here in Georgia, new companies and expanding businesses have excellent energy options and provider choices. Southern Company Gas and Atlanta Gas Light work with over a dozen natural gas marketers competing for business in our state. Similarly, manufacturing, or commercial customers, with connected loads of 900kW or greater have the opportunity to select the electrical provider who best meets their needs. In addition, with growing interest from consumers and financial markets, renewable energy technologies are being embraced by Georgia utilities, and are playing a key role in economic recovery and growth.
Corporate responsibility and sustainability goals are driving significant demand for cleaner energy options. Georgia’s 41 electric cooperatives are investing in clean, renewable energy options that will continue to attract business, create jobs, and provide a more sustainable livelihood for all citizens. Green Power EMC, which manages the renewable energy portfolio for the coops in Georgia, has a solar footprint that makes up approximately one-fourth of the total collective solar portfolio of all EMCs across the U.S. Georgia has a vibrant and burgeoning renewable energy ecosystem that is stimulating innovation, investment and creating new career pathways and employment opportunities.
Examples of clean renewable energy, such as locally produced renewable natural gas, nuclear power, and solar power options, have already proven successful. Some companies are actually buying renewable natural gas and burning it as compressed natural gas (CNG) in their vehicles. That is a win-win proposition, turning methane emissions from landfill and agricultural operations into transportation fuel. Aflac, based in Columbus Georgia, is just the latest corporate campus to commit to solar energy that will equate to as much as 10% of their energy demand.
Four of Georgia’s electricity generators, Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities, are investing in the first two new nuclear reactors built in more than 30 years in the entire country at Plant Vogtle, with the first unit scheduled to come online in 2021. Nuclear power makes up roughly 20% of the state’s electricity generation. Georgia Power estimates that 34% of its total southeastern energy portfolio will come from nuclear power over the next 3 years, with solar being a close second at 30%. Nuclear energy is emissions-free, safe and increases Georgia’s fuel diversity using a low-cost, reliable, and abundant resource.
Our MEAG cities have shown time and again that having easy access to energy that is reliable, sustainable, and of reasonable cost is key for companies deciding where to locate their operations. The decision by Japan’s Arglass Yamamura to establish the first flexible and efficient glass container manufacturing plant in the U.S. in Valdosta, Georgia – and the accompanying 150 new jobs it will bring to the city – may not have happened without competitive energy rates and options. And of course, while many were quarantined during the pandemic, our energy providers like Dalton Utilities never wavered. They kept the lights on in our homes, the ventilators running at our hospitals and thousands of critical Georgia-based industries were able to produce personal protection equipment and other support products because of these providers.
Yes, we are a little spoiled. When we turn the switch, the lights come on; the air conditioner cools; robots come to life; cars are charged. This is not the always case in other parts of America. The late U.S. Senator from Georgia, Paul Coverdell, frequently stated that capital does not flow toward uncertainty. Growth continues to come to Georgia as a result of the world-class certainty that we enjoy. Georgia’s utility providers are focused on building a sustainable and innovative energy infrastructure, providing cleaner options that are critical for a more resilient future. From natural gas and solar to nuclear power, the investment today will energize the reimagined New Georgia Economy.