Hearings start today on Georgia Power’s plan to burn more fossil fuels

Company claims it needs to add roughly 3,400 megawatts to meet the state’s economic development demands
Exterior of Georgia Power’s natural gas-powered Plant McDonough-Atkinson is shown on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. Hearings start today on Georgia Power plan to burn more fossil fuels. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Exterior of Georgia Power’s natural gas-powered Plant McDonough-Atkinson is shown on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. Hearings start today on Georgia Power plan to burn more fossil fuels. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Georgia Power executives will begin asking state regulators today to allow the company to add huge amounts of electricity capacity to their system — mostly powered by climate-warming fossil fuels — to meet the “historic” demand the utility says is on the horizon.

As recently as 2022, the company forecast only a modest increase in electricity demand later this decade. But Georgia Power now says it needs more electricity — and fast — to power a wave of large economic development projects heading to the state.

Georgia Power’s plan must be approved by the five elected members of the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC). But before the PSC takes a final vote, the commission’s staff — along with Georgia cities, environmentalists and a host of other groups — are expected to probe whether the company’s request is in the best interest of its customers.

Here’s what you need to know.

What Georgia Power wants

About 70% of what Georgia Power wants would likely come from fossil-fueled sources, including more natural gas capacity and buying electricity from out-of-state facilities. But it also includes adding battery storage and some new solar.

Georgia Power wants to:

  • Build three new oil and gas-burning turbines to produce up to 1,400 megawatts (MW) of electricity at Plant Yates in Coweta County.
  • Continue buying 750 MW from corporate cousin Mississippi Power that will postpone the retirement of a coal-fired plant in that state.
  • Continue purchasing 230 MW from a gas-fired power plant in Florida.
  • Add 1,000 MW of new battery storage. That includes a project that would pair 200 MW of new solar with a 200-megawatt battery energy storage system (BESS), plus a similar-sized BESS connecting to existing solar at Robbins and Moody Air Force Bases.

The revised plan also leaves the door open to keeping one of its coal-fired power plants — Plant Scherer near Macon — running beyond its planned closure date in 2028. Several other gas and coal-fired units at Alabama Power’s Plant Gaston may stay online beyond their planned 2028 retirement date, too.

The company’s ask comes after rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations — mainly the result of burning fossil fuels — pushed global temperatures to a new record high last year.

Why now?

Georgia Power’s ask is surprising.

The new capacity request equals about three-times the output of one of its new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta.

The company usually conducts long-range energy planning on three-year cycles. In 2022, the PSC approved it’s most recent roadmap for meeting future demand, which called for shuttering almost all of its remaining coal-fired plants, while adding huge amounts of natural gas and solar. The utility wasn’t scheduled to bring another case until 2025.

An analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of Georgia Power’s historical winter and summer peak demand data shows little growth between 2000 and 2022. Two forecasts produced by the company in 2022 showed demand could outstrip supply by the end of this decade or in the early 2030s, but not enough to alter their long-range plans.

Now, Georgia Power says a capacity shortfall is possible as soon as the winter of 2025, three years earlier than previously projected.

Its new modeling shows summer demand could grow by 7,100 MW through 2031. That’s 28 times more than the company projected in its 2022 case. Georgia Power now says winter demand could jump by 6,600 MW by 2031, too, a 17-fold increase.

What’s driving demand?

Georgia Power’s filings provide few specifics, but the company pins the increased demand on an influx of so-called “large load projects.”

Georgia has landed dozens of electric vehicle and battery factories, several large clean energy manufacturing projects, and has seen a proliferation of energy-sucking data centers.

Construction progress on Hyundai Motor Group's 'Metaplant' near Savannah is shown on October 25, 2023. The $7.6 billion electric vehicle and battery plant is expected to begin production in early 2025. Drew Kann/drew.kann@ajc.com

Credit: Drew Kann

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Credit: Drew Kann

Many potential projects Georgia Power has factored into its forecasts are outside its service territory, and a majority of those appear to be data centers. Of the 25 “large load” projects identified outside of its territory, records show 18 of those are data centers.

But there’s no guarantee Georgia Power will be selected to serve all those developments — they could choose one of the dozens of electric membership cooperatives (EMCs) in the state instead. In Georgia, certain large energy users can choose their electricity provider.

Why were projections off?

Georgia Power executives will likely be pressed on that point.

“Nothing in the company’s or state’s history would have predicted load growth of this magnitude or that such growth would occur so rapidly,” Georgia Power executives wrote in their pre-filed testimony.

Normally, when Georgia Power wants to add new capacity, it is required to issue a request for proposals. The company, PSC staff and an independent monitor would then evaluate the bids, and the commissioners would make a final decision.

Georgia Power headquarters in Atlanta are shown on Wednesday, September 28, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

This time, Georgia Power has asked the to waive those requirements. Nearly all of the proposed new capacity would be owned and operated by the company, or subsidiaries of its parent, Southern Company.

In general, utilities earn profits on infrastructure investments, like new power plants.

Will this increase customers’ bills?


In their filed testimony, Georgia Power executives say they don’t expect their plan to increase rates, but add that they will address costs down the road as part of their normal rate setting process.

Still, new supply resources cost money and it is possible they could eventually drive up electricity rates.

What to expect

A wide range of groups, including consumer advocates, environmentalists and major corporations like Walmart, are likely to cross-examine Georgia Power’s witnesses.

A coalition of local governments that includes the cities of Atlanta, Savannah and Decatur will also be participating. And the Clean Energy Buyers Association — which procures renewable energy for its members, who include giants like Amazon, Google and dozens of others — will also be involved.

The Waynesboro Community Solar Facility in Burke County is seen on Monday, July 31, 2023. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

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Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

The intervenors are expected to hone in on several issues, like Georgia Power’s plan to add fossil fuels in an era of worsening climate change, its forecasting methods and the potential impact of its plan on consumers.

“There is (demand) growth, yes,” said Jennifer Whitfield, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents Georgia Interfaith Power and Light. “But it’s not coming as fast and furious as they’re projecting. And that that growth can be met with cost effective clean energy, like solar and battery storage — that’s not what’s on the table here.”

After this week’s hearings, experts enlisted by the PSC’s public interest staff and intervening groups will have their turns on the witness stand. A final vote could come in April.

A note of disclosure

This coverage is supported by a partnership with Green South Foundation and Journalism Funding Partners. You can learn more and support our climate reporting by donating at ajc.com/donate/climate/