Local governments want to weigh in on Georgia Power’s energy strategy

The Georgia Public Service Commission is pictured in its hearing room. From left: Commissioners Fitz Johnson, Tim Echols, Tricia Pridemore, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald and Jason Shaw.

Combined ShapeCaption
The Georgia Public Service Commission is pictured in its hearing room. From left: Commissioners Fitz Johnson, Tim Echols, Tricia Pridemore, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald and Jason Shaw.

Coalition that includes Atlanta, DeKalb County files to intervene with Public Service Commission

For the first time ever, a group of green-thinking local governments have requested permission to participate directly in the state’s review of Georgia Power’s plan for meeting future energy needs.

The newly formed coalition — which includes the cities of Atlanta, Decatur and Savannah, plus Athens-Clarke, DeKalb and Fulton counties — represents some 2.1 million residents, or about one-fifth of Georgia’s total population. Those constituents consume tens of millions of megawatts of electricity each year, and local governments purchase large amounts of energy for their own operations as well.

Coalition members said they’ve never joined together to intervene in the Georgia Public Service Commission’s months-long consideration of Georgia Power’s integrated resource plan — which is updated every three years and guides the utility’s approach to providing electricity for consumers and businesses across the state.

The newest IRP — which proposes closing its remaining coal-fired plants and adding more renewables and natural gas — was filed in January. Hearings are scheduled to begin early next month.

With that in mind, the local governments are now asking for the ability to present testimony, cross-examine witnesses and file briefs just like the environmental, consumer and industry groups that have more traditionally participated in the process.

Each of the coalition members is at some stage of implementing plans to convert their own operations to 100% clean energy in the coming decades, but such initiatives can’t be undertaken in a silo.

“There’s all of these local governments that are like, hey, we want to get to 100% clean energy but we actually can’t do it by ourselves,” DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry said. “Because we’re not Georgia Power.”

Terry, who has been involved in past IRP proceedings as a leader in the Georgia Sierra Club, said not to expect the coalition to weigh in on hot-button issues like the never-ending nuclear expansion project at Plant Vogtle.

Instead, Terry said, the governments will be pushing on more “bread-and-butter economic issues” — programs that could make energy efficiency improvements more feasible for low- and middle-income residents and thereby reduce their energy burden (the percentage of household income spent on power bills).

Officials said the coalition will also advocate for more solar energy capacity and for the expansion of a program in which Georgia Power covers the cost of installing and maintaining expensive electric vehicle infrastructure.

The latter could be crucial as local jurisdictions move toward all-electric vehicle fleets.

The governments also want easier access to data so they can track their sustainability goals.

“Through this coalition, we hope to advance our shared climate, sustainability, energy, and equity transitions as we create a new pathway for more local governments to be involved in this incredibly important IRP process in the future,” a city of Atlanta spokesman said in an emailed statement.

Tricia Pridemore, chairman of the Public Service Commission, pushed back a bit on some of the coalition’s stated goals, defending the Georgia Power’s existing solar energy operations and efficiency programs.

But she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she welcomes additional input.

“We’ll see what they say in their testimony,” Pridemore said. “I’m interested, as I am with all of the intervenors.”

Alicia Brown, an energy analyst with Savannah’s Office of Sustainability, said the coalition is “not planning to come into this process in an adversarial manner.”

“We’re willing to work for the incremental gains,” she said. “Even if it means that we don’t get everything that we want.”