Step up, Georgia: Ditch the fossil fuels

In Rutledge, Ga., Jim Markley, the proprietor of CJ Orchards Farm, stands inside a peach tree with abundant leaves but devoid of fruit. The loss of approximately 90% of Georgia's peach crops is attributed to adverse weather conditions and the changing climate.
(Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

In Rutledge, Ga., Jim Markley, the proprietor of CJ Orchards Farm, stands inside a peach tree with abundant leaves but devoid of fruit. The loss of approximately 90% of Georgia's peach crops is attributed to adverse weather conditions and the changing climate. (Miguel Martinez /

As another Earth Day rolls around, with scientists telling us we must quickly stop burning fossil fuels to have any chance of preserving a livable world, it’s time for Georgia to do its part and reject calls to add electrical capacity with gas-fired plants that will pour more heat-trapping emissions into the atmosphere for decades to come.

The alarm bells from the Earth itself could not be any louder. March was the 10th month in a row that global temperatures set new records. For nearly a decade, scientists have insisted that warming must not exceed 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Well, guess what? We recently went through a 12-month period where that happened.

Ocean temperatures have been shattering records for more than a year now. With heat in the Atlantic unusually high, we could be in for a busy hurricane season this year, as warmer ocean temperatures add fuel for storms.

As temperatures climb, making weather more and more erratic, Georgia is feeling the effect:

  • In 2023, 90 percent of the state’s peach crop was destroyed. An exceptionally warm winter caused peaches to develop early, and a freeze in March killed most of the crop.
  • In 2018, Hurricane Michael blew through south Georgia, wiping out pecan and cotton crops. Overall damage to Georgia agriculture was close to $3 billion.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency predicts that 70 years from now, Georgia will see 45 to 75 days a year with temperatures above 95°, compared with 15 to 30 days now.

There’s little mystery as to why temperatures continue to climb and wreak havoc on our weather. At the start of the industrial revolution, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million. The burning of coal, oil and gas over the past two centuries has driven that level to more than 420 ppm, a level not seen in 3 million years, when sea levels were 50 feet higher than they are today.

Bringing down greenhouse gas emissions and eventually reducing the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere require that we stop burning coal, oil and gas as quickly as possible. Issuing a call to phase out fossil fuels last year, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “We are hurtling towards disaster, eyes wide open. It’s time to wake up and step up.”

Steve Valk

Credit: handout

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Credit: handout

Unfortunately, members of the Georgia Public Service Commission are ignoring the science and warnings about the need for a rapid transition toward cleaner sources of energy. Georgia Power, the state’s largest supplier of electricity, got permission Tuesday to add more gas-fired power plants to meet an anticipated increase in demand.

The threat that this decision poses to our climate should have been, by itself, reason enough to reject additional fossil fuel projects. But if you consider the economic opportunities to expand clean energy in Georgia, the decision to reject Georgia Power’s request should have been a no-brainer.

Georgia ranks among the best states in potential for producing solar energy, with 218 sunny days a year (above the national average of 205), and the state receives more direct sunlight. Georgia has a growing solar industry. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported, Qcells’ solar manufacturing plant in Cartersville is producing finished solar panels. The company says its two factories will eventually employ 4,000 workers in Georgia. The Cartersville plant will produce 16,700 panels a day, panels that could roll off the assembly line and into utility-scale solar farms producing clean electricity.

Rooftops with a southern exposure could feed more electricity into the grid. A program called net-metering, whereby customers feed their excess electricity back into the grid and get paid for it, provides a strong incentive for homeowners to participate in this effort. However, Georgia Power has capped the number of participants at 5,000. Lifting the cap could reduce or eliminate the need for additional gas-fired power plants.

The PSC said one of the objectives of the deal was to keep costs down for consumers. If that is a concern, there’s a solution: Put a price on carbon and give the revenue back to households. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act in front of Congress would do just that. The steadily rising fee on carbon would speed the transition from fossil fuels, and the “dividend” going to households would, in the vast majority of cases, exceed additional energy costs.

Georgia has nothing to gain economically from adding electrical capacity produced by fossil fuels. Georgia has no reserves of coal, oil or natural gas. We do have plenty of sunshine and a booming clean-energy industry cranking out tons of solar panels and batteries. Let’s take advantage of those resources and make a meaningful contribution to the clean energy transition. Delaying that transition by burning more gas only brings us one step closer to climate catastrophe.

Steve Valk, a member of the Atlanta chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, is communications adviser for Citizens’ Climate International.