Climate scientists are screaming, will the Public Service Commission listen?

April 5, 2022 4:27 pm

Three years ago a Georgia Power attorney helped navigate the company’s resource plan through the state PSC’s review. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

In her middle school graduation paper, my daughter declared that she had learned enough about climate change and that it was time for her to act. She has since spent hundreds of hours working to convince leaders to listen to the international scientific consensus and take the rapid, transformative action necessary to avoid climate catastrophe.

She wrote her paper three years ago, when Georgia Power was in the process of submitting its last Integrated Resource Plan to the Public Service Commission (PSC) for review. Imagine where we would be now if leaders at Georgia Power and the PSC had made a similar declaration to deal with the climate emergency and had spent the last three years following through with the same energy and focus as my daughter?

But they didn’t. In fact, now, after three more years of extreme climate disasters around the world, and with scientists screaming louder than ever that our window is closing and we must take immediate action, Georgia Power doesn’t even mention the word climate in its press release for this year’s IRP, let alone “crisis” or “emergency.”

The PSC could require much more from Georgia Power and our other utility providers. The commissioners oversee electricity production in the state and could play a big role in requiring utilities to prioritize clean energy investments. So, I attended the March 24th Public Service Commission town hall to speak on behalf of my daughter and future generations. I asked commissioners to exercise their power and influence to more rapidly transition us to clean and renewable energy.

I received some considerable pushback.

The commissioners defended what they have done so far, arguing that they have already done a lot. While it is true that solar has increased in the state and that Georgia Power is winding down coal power, it is simply not enough. The pushback against the urgent call to take bold action was so dismissive that the chairman suggested that other international actors weren’t reading the same science, and that I might want to take my activism to China and India because they are big contributors to climate change.

These comments are an illustration of the attitude the PSC takes toward climate change. They refuse to deal with the situation with the urgency necessary to protect our children’s future.

The steps they mention may have been sufficient 20 years ago, but utilities and fossil fuel companies fought hard against taking such action then. Fossil fuel executives spread misinformation, and they prevented effective climate policies. As a result, the consensus of the international scientific community is that our only hope now is to take much bigger steps to rapidly decarbonize our energy grid.

The IRP is a 20-year plan, which brings us to 2042, only eight years before scientists say we need to have ceased energy-sector emissions altogether in order to avoid the most catastrophic climate impacts. Georgia Power and the Public Service Commission should only get credit if they work with climate scientists and other policymakers to create and then act upon an IRP that meets this and other international climate targets. The current plan won’t get us close. The solar investments are way too small, and the plan relies too heavily on fracked gas, which emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

If we don’t take swift and significant action now, the future consequences and financial costs will be far more grave. For example, there are already an average of 20 dangerous heat days a year in Georgia, and that is projected to increase to over 90 dangerous heat days if the climate keeps heating up. Imagine the energy burden of cooling homes and businesses for such extended periods of extreme heat! Not to mention all of the health, productivity and quality of life impacts.

The United States should be the leader in rapid decarbonization, not blaming other countries. The U.S. has contributed more greenhouse gas emissions to earth’s total than any other country. We are still the number two polluter instead of being at the forefront of pioneering a clean energy economy and benefiting from the clean energy jobs and better health outcomes that come with it.  In Georgia, it starts with the Georgia Public Service Commission. The majority of Georgians want them to listen to the science and take bold, brave and decisive climate action. I encourage you to join my daughter and me in expressing your own concerns. Ultimately, though, it is the responsibility of the commissioners to either rise to the moment, or to step aside and allow someone else to do so. Our children’s futures are at stake.

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Lisa Coronado
Lisa Coronado

Lisa Coronado is a former DeKalb County math teacher who has previously testified to the value of requiring recess in elementary school, legislation approved by the state Legislature late in the 2022 session. Inspired by her daughter's commitment to climate activism, Lisa has recently focused on climate action including participating in the City of Decatur's community process to help develop a climate action plan. She's one of the founders of Decatur Cares About Climate, a grassroots organization encouraging community members to participate in climate action.