By Walter C. Jones
ATLANTA — Reaction in Georgia split along ideological lines to a federal proposal released Monday to reduce carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030.
Environmental groups in the state hailed it as a victory, noting that Georgia once generated more than half the electricity it uses by burning coal, a major source of carbon emissions. The nation’s largest single source of carbon emissions is Georgia Power Co.’s Plant Scherer in the heart of the state just north of Macon.
Achieving the ambitious goal will create jobs, the environmental groups say, because the state’s utilities will need to hire people to install equipment to use renewable sources such as solar, wind and biomass.
“The new safeguards not only protect our health and communities, but they will also spur innovation and strengthen our economy. By moving to 100 percent clean affordable energy sources, we’ll create tens of thousands of Georgia jobs and billions of dollars in new investment,” said Ashten Bailey, an attorney with GreenLaw, a Georgia based legal advocacy.
The opposite will happen, according to members of the Public Service Commission.
“This will raise electricity prices. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it,” said Commission Chairman Chuck Eaton.
“I will be the one, and my fellow commissioners, stuck handing out the bill to pay for all of this.”
The proposal would require Georgia and other states to draft a plan for rolling back emissions to 30 percent lower than they were in 2005. But the nation already has achieved a 12 percent reduction since then, in part because technology has made it cheaper to burn cleaner natural gas to generate power.
In anticipation of tougher standards, Georgia Power won the commission’s approval to close 15 of its older, coal-burning generation plants. Some others will be converted to natural gas.
As recently as 2011, 62 percent of Georgia Power’s generation came from coal, but it dropped to 35 percent last year.
“I am told, however, that since the utilities in Georgia have been very pro-active, that they have probably already taken many of the steps that these new regulations may, in fact, require,” Gov. Nathan Deal said. “So, we are hopeful that is the case. And if it is, it should have minimal impact.”
Commissioner Stan Wise is less hopeful. He warns that the eventual increase in the price of natural gas will force up Georgia electric rates.
Georgia Power accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration of overreaching its authority.
“EPA’s proposed emission guidelines appear to be based on reduction measures that extend well beyond Clean Air Act requirements and infringe upon states’ authority to determine the best approach for their own generating sources,” said company spokesman John Kraft.