Georgia has taken a huge step toward planting the seeds needed to grow a clean-energy economy.
As part of Georgia Power's 20-year energy plan, the Georgia Public Service Commission voted to not only approve Georgia Power's plans to retire 20 percent of its oldest and dirtiest coal plants; the commission also issued an additional order directing the Southern Company subsidiary to add 525 MW of solar to its fuel mix by 2016. This addition means that Georgia will have 1 gigawatt of clean wind and solar energy online by 2017. Georgia is fifth in the nation for solar energy potential, yet languishes in 38th place for the total number of solar power projects currently installed.
“This was the most important news anyone can remember," said Georgia-based Sierra Club organizer Seth Gunning. "Whereas we used to see the Public Service Commissioners as rubber-stampers for Georgia Power's agenda, this huge ruling shows that this is no longer the case and represents a monumental shift for the potential of the state’s clean energy future."
The commission's decision in part reflected efforts by the Georgia Beyond Coal Campaign to build bridges with some unlikely allies: the state’s conservative Republicans and Tea Party members from the Savannah and Atlanta areas, in addition to consumer advocates and the solar industry.
This played a role in compelling the all-Republican Public Service Commission to pass the proposal that added the solar program to the 20-year plan in the face of a heavy fossil-fuel-funded lobbying effort that sought to defeat the solar proposal. Before the vote, about 50 clean-energy advocates held a counter-demonstration in response to a rally funded by the Koch brothers.
"The clean-energy rally filled the rotunda inside the capital," said Gunning. "None of this would have happened without the leadership and hard work from our Smart Energy Team, our staff, and the attorneys at GreenLaw. In the months before the decision, dozens of volunteer leaders made phone calls, wrote letters, testified, organized and attended public hearings demanding that the Commission reduce Georgia Power's coal capacity and increase solar."
Clean-energy advocates are excited for the future of the state.
"Before the Commission proposed this new solar development, Georgia Power's long-term energy plan had no program to add clean energy," said Ashten Bailey of GreenLaw. "With this new initiative, we’re no longer at the back of the pack and can truly compete to be a clean energy leader in the Southeast."
Congratulations to our wonderful activists and volunteers in Georgia!