PSC Commissioner Tim Echols: Cleaner Air is Not Free
Thursday, May 25th, 2023
Electricity generation is no longer the leading source of carbon emissions in our state, this according to Drawdown Georgia, a group of scientists and researchers from multiple universities led by Georgia
Tech’s Dr. Marilyn Brown. Greenhouse gases fell by 5% between 2017 and 2021, even though our economy grew by 10%. The primary driver? Carbon emissions from Georgia’s electric power plants declined by more than 15% as we increased reliance on natural gas and solar. This clean energy
transition is anything but cheap.
Let’s start with solar—the cleanest source of energy at our disposal. Georgia will be 4th in the nation by 2024 in deploying utility-scale solar. While you can’t see it in metro Atlanta, solar arrays are scattered across rural Georgia in massive fields. Getting that energy, which has no fuel cost, back to urban areas requires inverters, substations, and upgraded transmission lines. And to retain that
energy longer, our utilities are funding massive grid-tied battery systems. All these costs are reflected in your rising power bills.
Simultaneously, we have been closing dirty coal plants. Think about the difference between a charcoal grill and a gas grill, and what the cleanup is like, just at home. Not only does natural gas burn cleaner
and have less particulate matter, but there is no ash involved. Almost half of our current energy generation comes from natural gas, which has 90% less greenhouse gases and half thecarbon dioxide than coal. Building those new gas plants impacts power bills too.
And what about the cost of the fuel itself? For ten years, natural gas has been cheap. Scientific data showed it was getting results. Then along came the Ukrainian War. European countries, who also abandoned coal, either boycotted, or were cut off from, Russian gas. U.S. exports of gas rose to record levels, causing our own prices to spike over the last two years. That impact alone will cause a temporary jump in electric bills of 12% in Georgia.
Knowing that too much dependence on natural gas leaves us vulnerable to that market’s volatility, Georgia is diversifying our energy mix by building the first nuclear power units this country has seen in over thirty years. While the capital construction costs may be the costliest generation yet, the ongoing costs of this carbon free source of energy that will soon power 500,000 homes will be among the lowest available for 80 years or more.
The big winner in all of this is Georgia’s air quality, and your lungs. Ushering in a new paradigm is never easy, and certainly not cheap. But in the end, I believe the efforts will be worth it. And with our rates still below the national average, Georgia is open and ready for more business and more people. Let’s keep it going.
Tim Echols is Vice-Chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission. You can find his biography at https://psc.ga.gov/about-the-