For The Record

Sierra Club report card hands Georgia Power’s climate plans failing grades

By: - January 25, 2021 10:15 pm

Georgia Power’s coal-fired Plant Scherer contributed to the state’s largest electric public utility and its parent company receiving failing grades in new Sierra Club environmental report card. Contributed/Altamaha Riverkeeper

Georgia’s largest electric public utility and its parent company received failing grades in an advocacy group’s new report sizing up the climate plans of the country’s regulated utilities.

The Sierra Club’s report, titled “The Dirty Truth about Utility Climate Pledges,” gave Georgia Power 13 points out of 100 based on criteria that rewards utilities for retiring coal plants, shunning new gas production, and investing in wind and solar energy over the next decade. Its parent company, Southern Company, earned a 5 out of 100.

The utility has made a gradual shift away from coal, which is a major contributor of carbon emissions. The company announced last year that it was on track to cut its emissions in half by 2025 and that it would plan to reach “net zero” by 2050.

Georgia Power has also increased its solar energy production, partly at the urging of state regulators.

But climate advocates are pressing Georgia Power and other utilities to share their sense of urgency toward slowing rising global temperatures. Georgia Power has committed to retiring about 9% of its coal production by 2030, according to the Sierra Club.

“Numbers don’t lie,” Stephen Stetson, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a statement Monday. “And unfortunately, the data doesn’t align with Southern Company’s net-zero emissions target and the company’s actual concrete plans to retire fossil fuel plants while adding renewables and prepping the grid for a clean energy transition.

“Southern’s low report card score is a product of doubling down on dirty fossil energy sources, which is unfortunate when building renewables would both create jobs and save customers money,” Stetson also said.

John Kraft, spokesman for Georgia Power, said Monday that the utility has worked under the oversight of state regulators for decades “to invest in a diverse energy mix of nuclear, natural gas, hydro, renewables, coal and energy efficiency resources to deliver clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy to its 2.6 million customers.”

In the process, the company has cut its carbon emissions by 44% through 2019, Kraft said. Georgia Power plans to grow its renewable generation by more than 72% by 2024, increasing its total renewable capacity to 22% of its portfolio.

“Georgia Power is also adding new nuclear units as an essential part of supporting Southern Company’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and retired five more coal-fired units in 2019 to reduce the company’s coal-generation capacity to approximately half of what it was in 2005,” Kraft said in a statement.

The Atlanta-based Southern Company is also the parent of Alabama Power and Mississippi Power, which both scored a zero on the report. Stetson criticized the group of utilities for being “vague and glacial” in announcing coal plant retirements and for its embrace of gas. He urged the parent company to turn to solar power and energy storage.

“These kinds of decisions have serious consequences, and without concrete benchmarks for getting coal off the grid, it makes it hard to praise Southern Company for a lofty commitment to decarbonize, especially given the urgency of the current moment,” Stetson said.

Southern Company had this to say in a statement about the report: “Southern Company is confident that we are prepared and well-positioned to meet the needs of our customers, employees, communities and investors well into the future and will succeed in our transition to a net zero future.”

The regulated companies assessed in the report own about half of all the remaining coal and gas generation in the country. The report said that “despite 33 of these companies having a public climate goal, there is an enormous gap between utilities’ current practices and what they need to do to protect people and the planet.”

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.

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