Clean, efficient power on rise in Georgia, consumer advocate says

Wind and sun power still small but drawing more interest

jgaines@macon.comApril 16, 2014 

Georgia Power is edging toward more renewable sources of energy as it plans to close 15 coal- and oil-fired power plants over the next few years, but efficiency and conservation are still the best ways to keep costs down and protect the environment, according to a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.

“The cheapest form of energy and the cleanest form of energy is that which has not been produced,” Liz Coyle, acting executive director of Georgia Watch, said at a Wednesday meeting of the League of Women Voters in Macon.

Facing tighter federal air-quality standards and the requirement to develop a 20-year plan for meeting Georgia’s projected energy needs, Georgia Power is slowly turning from big combustion plants to less centralized solar and wind sources, Coyle said. The utility’s renewable-energy staff has grown from 2 to 22, she said.

Georgia Power has more generating capacity than it needs even at peak times, and two new nuclear reactors being built at Plant Vogtle eventually will increase that capacity further, so old high-polluting plants can be taken offline, Coyle said. But Plant Scherer is not among those expected to close anytime soon, she said.

Solar power is getting cheaper, and Georgia Power is looking at four sites along the coast for possible wind power, Coyle said.

Though those forms of energy don’t demand purchase of any fuel, setting them up is still expensive, she said. That’s why Georgia Watch has hopes for a bill that may make it to a General Assembly vote next year, which would allow third-party financing to be used for installing solar panels or other clean-energy infrastructure, Coyle said.

Power companies and Wall Street exist to make money, but they’re starting to realize that the “antiquated” model of big centralized power plants and a rigid distribution grid won’t last forever, she said.

In the short term, consumers’ best bet is to conserve energy whenever possible and make sure their power use is efficient, Coyle said. Georgia Power will perform free audits of in-home energy use, she said.

Information on getting an audit, or a free online energy checkup, is available at residential.georgiapower.com/products-programs/energy-audit.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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