Originally created 11/30/03

'Green' energy draws doubts



ATLANTA - Environmental and religious groups are questioning Georgia Power's plan to charge customers extra for cleaner sources of energy that other providers offer at no extra cost.

The same groups question whether the company's proposed "green power" is in fact more environmentally friendly than the more common practice of burning coal.

Georgia Power is in talks to purchase blocks of energy generated by burning methane gas at a landfill.

Georgia Power would offer the cleaner energy to customers for an extra $6 a month.

But Oglethorpe Power, which supplies power to 39 electrical membership corporations in Georgia, has been using landfill-gas power for a decade. Corporation officials say they don't charge customers extra for the service.

"This should bring Georgia Power's integrity into question," said Colleen Kiernan, of the Sierra Club of Georgia. "This should cause Georgia consumers who are thinking about buying it to be skeptical of Georgia Power's commitment to anything green."

The state passed legislation encouraging electric utilities to make cleaner sources of power available to the public.

Georgia Power said the landfill gas it wants to buy from a Norcross facility does qualify as green power, and they have to charge a premium because of the high level of financial risk.

"We have to sign up the customers," Georgia Power spokesman John Sell said. "If we don't sign enough customers, we eat the cost."

Oglethorpe Power spokesman Greg Jones said the state's electric membership corporations never boosted their prices for landfill gas-generated power.

"In the grand scheme of things, it did not have a major impact" on the price membership corporations paid Oglethorpe Power to acquire blocks of energy, he said. "It was just a very small part of the overall mix of power we were using."

Both the Sierra Club and Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, a group of churches lobbying for cleaner sources of energy, say they don't consider landfill gas as good for the environment as other options.

Woody Bartlett, the organizer of the church group, said his organization won't buy Georgia Power's landfill-gas energy until it's certified by the independent San Francisco-based Center for Resource Solutions.

The Public Service Commission must approve any energy source before it is marketed as "green." Members say Georgia Power's plan remains in "regulatory limbo."