Groups: Cut energy demand, create jobs

Two nuclear reactors and up to three coal plants are now teed up for construction in Georgia, to meet the state’s future power needs.

But recent studies from the Consumer Federation of America in Washington, D.C., and the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies in Chattanooga argue that Georgia could meet demand more cheaply and get more economic bang for the buck if it invested in shaving power use instead. An aggressive energy program would cut consumer costs and add jobs, as people buy products and take actions that will save energy, the studies said.

The studies came as the build-vs.-save argument is about to get a new airing. In a case beginning next week, the state Public Service Commission will weigh the role of energy efficiency in meeting power demand.

New construction has become Georgia's main strategy for meeting future power needs. Georgia Power and a handful of electric cooperatives have ambitious plans to build the kind of big power plants that produce power 24/7 all year long. Such plants haven't been built in the state in decades.

Georgia Power is building two reactors at its nuclear plant near Augusta. Power4Georgians, formed by six electric cooperatives, plans a coal-fired plant in Middle Georgia and bought land for another potential plant in South Georgia. An out-of-state company awaits a court ruling on a coal plant near the Alabama border.

Both a February Consumer Federation report and a March Ochs Center study say efficiency measures meet power needs more cheaply than new plants.

The Ochs report, funded by the Rockefeller Family Fund, also says an aggressive energy-efficiency program in Power4Georgians territory would add more jobs than a new plant in one county would: "An efficiency first program makes sense both on a financial basis and on a jobs basis,” said Ochs President David Eichenthal.

Power4Georgians spokesman Dean Alford called the Ochs study flawed. He said it was embraced by anti-coal groups whose environmental message had fallen flat: "I find it very interesting that jobs has become their argument.”

Georgia Power said efficiency is "an important component of our plan for meeting customer demand." The company also said energy efficiency is a "less certain" way to meet customer demand than actual generation of power.