The state of Georgia simply doesn’t have the wind, solar or biomass resources required to meet proposed new federal regulations for renewable energy generation, Georgia Public Service Commissioner Stan Wise told members of Congress Thursday.

He claims that Georgians’ electricity bills would rise by as much as 25 percent and billions of taxpayer money would flow out of Georgia to import renewable energy from other states or to pay for government-sponsored credits to offset proposed renewable goals.

“Ultimately it’s going to be a substantial wealth transfer from Southern states … and ultimately cost us jobs, growth and industry — and be a significant cost to the ratepayer,” Wise said.

President Barack Obama has called for the country to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. In his speech to Congress on Tuesday, Obama also called for a federal carbon cap-and-trade system that would force coal-fired power plants and other big emitters of greenhouse gases to limit their carbon emissions and buy credits from renewable energy producers located elsewhere if they exceed those limits.

The president’s push for clean energy has bolstered legislation in Congress for national renewable energy standards that would augment or replace similar standards already put in place by 28 states. A bill making its way through the House, for instance, would require the nation’s electricity companies to get 6 percent of their power from renewables by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025.

That’s achievable in Plains states that have abundant wind, or Southwestern states that get plenty of sunshine. But “it’s just not feasible,” in Georgia and other Southern states, Wise said.

By far, the primary source of Georgia’s electricity comes from coal-fired power plants. Only a small fraction comes from renewable energy — mainly hydroelectricity. For instance, Atlanta-based Southern Co., the owner of Georgia Power and utilities in three other nearby states, gets about 70 percent of its power from coal-fired plants; most of the rest comes from gas and nuclear plants.

If utilities aren’t able to meet national renewable standards, they could possibly buy credits from wind, solar or other renewable producers in other states. They also might be able to purchase renewable power from other states, but that would take huge investments in electricity transmission lines. This is something that might be addressed in the proposed National Smart Grid Mandate we covered earlier in the week.

Barrow, Wise and others want Congress to broaden the definition of renewables to include nuclear power plants, existing and new hydroelectric plants and other sources. If that happens, the state could come a lot closer to meeting the 25 percent renewables goal by 2025.

The Georgia PSC will decide in two weeks whether to allow Georgia Power to proceed with its plans for two additional reactors. Wise, speaking for himself and not for the commission, testified before state lawmakers in favor of a bill that would facilitate them. That bill passed the state House on Thursday.

However some say Georgia and its utilities simply aren’t trying hard enough to increase the state’s renewable resources.

A recent report by the environmental group Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, for instance, shows that Georgia and other Southern states could easily reach the 25 percent by 2025 goal if they did a better job of tapping into biomass, wind, solar and ocean-energy resources.

And a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists recently found that Georgia could create more than 3,800 jobs and attract $1.4 billion in new investment by 2030 if it did a better job of developing its renewable resources. The scientists group’s study points out that the state is already exporting its money for much of its electricity:

About $1.6 billion was spent to import coal to the state in 2005 alone, it estimates. So it seems that the current complaining by many politicians in Georgia is either posturing ahead of lobbying efforts on behalf of the coal industry, or an inability to plan ahead towards a sustainable future for their state. Either way questions need to be asked of their ability to make the necessary transformation of their states energy generation and infrastructure.

Image of Atlanta at night by Nrbelex on flickr under the Creative Commons license



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