ATLANTA -- A super storm that plunged millions of people in the most populous part of the country into the dark did nothing to change the Southern Co.’s energy strategy, CEO Tom Fanning said Wednesday.
Fanning makes speeches in support of all energy sources, specifically defending the company’s reliance on coal and nuclear, which are not popular with some political segments.
The company has sent 2,000 linemen, tree crews, damage assessors, network specialists and support staff from its subsidiaries, including Georgia Power.
They have already been deployed and re-deployed as they keep moving to the next critical area in support of utilities in the affected areas of the Northeast. It’s a switch because hurricanes strike in Southern Co.’s operating area more often.
Fanning said he’s glad to return the favor and share expertise his crews have gained on the front line of dozens of storms over the years. He also said their reports and other information he’s gathered has convinced him his company is right to continue pursuing its planned mix of energy sources.
“We (as an industry) took down some nuclear plants that lost internal power or had rising water, and all of the plants behaved beautifully,” he said.
Southern is building the country’s first two commercial reactors in 30 years at Plant Vogtle near Augusta. It has spent the past year defending them against critics who say the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that led to the destruction of reactors there should force a halt to new reactors here.
So, Fanning sounded pleased to have a natural disaster that is a success story.
“It is another example of how robust our nuclear fleet is here in the United States,” he said.
However, environmental opponents like the Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions remains unconvinced.
“The industry wants us to think that the reactors are safe, but they have not taken all the necessary precautions for predictable disasters” Bobbie Paul, Georgia WAND executive director said this week. “It is irresponsible for our elected officials and for Southern Co. to pretend they have.”
The company has been adding to its solar-generating capacity. It recently acquired the largest solar facility in the country that actively tracks the sun’s movement to keep rays focused at photovoltaic panels on a 300-acre site in Nevada. And Georgia Power is seeking regulatory permission to triple its solar capacity through various purchases from private suppliers.
The glass panels are vulnerable to debris and limbs hitting them as well as wind lifting them, but Fanning expressed confidence.
“My sense is that those resources are going to be reasonably robust,” he said.
The company is also investigating with Georgia Tech the possibility of erecting a number of wind turbines offshore near Tybee Island on the Georgia coast. But high winds damage them, forcing them to be taken out of operation during storms.
“When you’re in areas of the united states that is subject to hurricanes, that is a concern,” he said, adding that wind will never be a major energy source in the Southeast.