ATLANTA – A hearing on Georgia Power Co.’s 20-year blueprint for electricity generation Monday triggered a debate over what is the best fuel source.

Every three years the company submits its integrated-resource plan for approval by the Georgia Public Service Commission. During the last approval, the commissioners cajoled the utility into what they like to describe as “voluntary” solar expansion by 525 megawatts.

“We like to use euphemisms for the word ‘mandate’ around here,” Commission Chairman Chuck Eaton joked when a renewable-energy activist called for more solar power.

Georgia Power proposed adding 525 megawatts more of renewable energy in the latest plan to be achieved in the next three years.  “Students want to go much further,” said Emory University student Geoff Martin in his comments to the commission. He called for 3,000 megawatts of solar power.

On the other hand, Cal Abel, chief technology officer of Signal Power & Light, argued that solar and wind aren’t reliable enough and that lower-income customers bear the brunt of spotty power and brownouts because they can’t afford backup generators like the rich can.  “Mandating that a utility purchase power from unreliable energy sources such as renewable energy standards goes against everything we are fighting for,” he said.

Even those interested in renewable power had their different points of view. An executive of a biomass-fueled generator in Thomaston, Ga., called for more biomass. Commissioner Tim Echols noted that purchasing wind power from western states would not stimulate job creation in Georgia.

“Are you aware of the value of the large solar arrays in South Georgia to those counties,” he asked.  But Georgia Power’s executive in charge of energy planning, Alison Chiock, said the company’s intention is to compare the various renewable sources on an economic basis.

“By having each of the technologies compete, we think that brings the best value to our customers,” she said.  Nuclear power also drew sharp divisions. The company is constructing two reactors at Plant Vogtle, and a representative of the labor unions doing the work spoke in favor of finishing them and accepting the company’s request to study the viability of a nuclear plant in Stewart County. But an environmental activist involved with the Chattahoochee River opposed the new nuclear plant because he said its need for cooling steam would draw too much water from the river during droughts.

The long-range plan also includes shuttering some coal-fired generating units and even giving away the land of one, Plant Kraft in Savannah. The land would go to the Georgia Ports Authority because, Chiock said, the gift would stimulate economic development that would benefit all electricity customers while selling it would only put money into shareholders’ pockets.

The commission has many days of testimony planned before a vote later this spring on the plan.


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