Opinion: Georgia’s ushering in ‘New Energy’ economy

Joe McClain, an installer for Creative Solar USA, moves solar panels onto the roof of a home in Ball Ground, Georgia on December 17th, 2021.

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Joe McClain, an installer for Creative Solar USA, moves solar panels onto the roof of a home in Ball Ground, Georgia on December 17th, 2021.

EARTH DAY AND ENERGY

As we read in a recent Sunday column in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Amazon is poised to overtake UPS as the world’s largest shipper this year. Kmart and Sears, once discount giants in America, are down to just a handful of stores — thanks to Walmart, Target and Amazon. Disruption is inevitable in the marketplace, and some believe the pattern fits the utility sector as well. Here’s why.

Coal, once the resource that warmed homes, powered trains and most recently electrified America, is on its way out. In Georgia, we have been steadily closing coal plants, replacing them with natural gas turbines and giant solar fields. The result: Cheaper power and cleaner air. That trend probably continues as our Public Service Commission hears testimony, reviews data, considers public comment and later this summer renders a decision on the way forward for big power plants and what will replace them.

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State of Georgia Public Utility Commission official, Tim Echols, was chosen to be honored with the Advanced Reactors Summit's Trailblazer award at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum Feb. 21.

Credit: contributed

State of Georgia Public Utility Commission official, Tim Echols, was chosen to be honored with the Advanced Reactors Summit's Trailblazer award at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum Feb. 21.

Credit: contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
State of Georgia Public Utility Commission official, Tim Echols, was chosen to be honored with the Advanced Reactors Summit's Trailblazer award at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum Feb. 21.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Consumers of power are changing too. Homes are more efficient, rooftop solar is cheaper than ever, and lithium ion batteries are gaining in popularity — both on the garage wall and the car that sits in the garage. And the result, not surprisingly, is again cheaper power and cleaner air. While not every home is suitable for solar, batteries or electric vehicles, the fact that companies like Ford, General Motors, Kia and Mercedes are spending billions to persuade their most loyal customers and shareholders to get ready to transition to EVs is significant. And data shows that people who drive EVs have a keen interest in solar, and vice-versa.

But the news is not all bad for utilities. For example, solar customers on the Georgia Power system still buy about the same, if not more, electricity from Georgia Power each month when compared with customers without rooftop solar. And their rooftop arrays reduce pressure on the utility’s transmission and distribution systems, benefiting all Georgians, whether they invest in solar or not. The utility of the future can assist homeowners in getting solar on their roof and batteries in their garage — and probably profit in the process. We know that electricity usage is going up because of EVs. With more coal plants closing, consumers are interested in helping generate that needed power and save themselves some money in the process. We just need to make sure the process is as simple and fair as possible.

Stay tuned in for all the updates at my social media channels or my weekly show “Energy Matters with Commissioner Echols” wherever you get your podcasts. Meanwhile, at the Georgia Public Service Commission, it is our constitutionally elected job to keep this grid reliable, to keep rates as low as possible, and prepare for the future — whatever it will look like.

Tim Echols is vice-chair of the Georgia Public Service Commission.