On Monday night, at their first public meeting to launch the combined effort, about 75 people attended to hear speakers and participate in roundtable discussions. They were recruited by the groups in the coalition: Partnership for Southern Equity, Fulton-Atlanta Community Action Authority, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, GreenLaw, Georgia Watch, Center for Sustainable Communities and Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta.
Nathaniel Smith, the chief equity officer of Partnership for Southern Equity, said their goal was cooperation rather than confrontation.
“It’s not about the good guy or the bad guy,” he said. “It’s ‘When can we come together?’”
Confrontation might be unavoidable, however.
The activists are borrowing tactics from California and other states on ways to persuade power companies and state policy-makers to close, move or convert power plants. They heard Barbara Hale, the assistant general manager for San Francisco’s utilities commission, recount the long battles over closing two of that city’s coal-fired power plants. She urged the Georgians to stick together and to accept small victories.
Marilyn Brown, a Georgia Tech professor, disagreed with Hale.
“I don’t think we need incrementalism. California may have the luxury of being able to take its time because it has come so far for so long,” said Brown, who contributed research to Al Gore’s Nobel Prize-winning campaign against climate change. “Here in the South, we are so far behind, we can leapfrog. We have urgent needs.”
The groups acknowledge that their first job is simply to tell the poor and other environmentalists about the concept of energy equity.
The Rev. Gerald Durley, a co-chairman of Concerned Black Clergy of Atlanta, said that he knew nothing about the issue until recently but that he became convinced that energy equity is just as important.
“Right now, this is the civil rights movement of 2013,” said Durley, a lieutenant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “… It’s not a flash in the pan. It’s a struggle.”
The coalition’s next two events are a forum Thursday night in Sandersville about the proposed coal-fired Plant Washington and a June 18-19 Public Service Commission hearing on Georgia Power’s long-term plan.
Ron Shipman, Georgia Power’s vice president of environmental affairs, was invited to speak at Monday’s forum, where he tried to address the group’s concerns, especially about using fuel that pollutes less than coal.
“We hear you, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to make energy affordable,” he said.