Originally created 12/17/06

Georgia releases first strategy for energy use



ATLANTA - Officials on Friday released Georgia's first comprehensive energy plan, a nearly 10-month effort to catalog needs and develop recommended policies the state should take.

The plan's development included input from utility executives, environmental groups and individual consumers. A total of 36 specific strategies were included in the final draft, ranging from creating tax credits or rebates for people investing in fuel-efficient vehicles to supporting the exploration of natural gas reserves off the coast.

"This is the first time Georgia has ever done this," said Elizabeth Sparrow Robertson, the director of the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority's division of Energy Resources. The state agency spearheaded the plan's development.

"This will begin to orient Georgia toward a future characterized by affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible energy," Ms. Robertson said.

Advocacy groups have been pushing for years to create such a plan, pointing to other Southeastern states such as North Carolina and Florida that already have an energy strategy in place.

The turning point came last year when hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted gasoline and natural gas supplies, pushing up already rising fuel prices. With drivers and homeowners complaining about higher energy bills, state lawmakers and Gov. Sonny Perdue began focusing on the issue as a long-term problem. Mr. Perdue named a council earlier this year to work on the plan.

Perdue press secretary Bert Brantley said the governor received the final report late last week and will review the recommendations.

The governor's support will be key to what ideas are actually implemented, according to groups that have participated in the plan's discussions.

"A lot of what's going to play out in the Legislature this year is going to be how effective this document is," said Anne Gilliam, the diesel and biofuels program coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

One suggestion is to create a Renewable Fuels Advancement Fund to bolster the fledgling biofuels industry, particularly when it comes to converting Georgia-grown trees or other agriculture products into ethanol.

Other ideas made it into the plan, but not without controversy among participants.

Though a majority of the energy policy council supported looking at nuclear power options, others were adamantly against the idea, citing concerns about managing nuclear waste and the history of higher-than-expected costs with previous nuclear expansions in the state.

Owners of Plant Vogtle near Augusta already are studying the possibility of adding two reactors to the facility there.

As Georgia's population has grown dramatically in recent years, so has the demand for electricity, increasing 61 percent between 1990 and 2004. That demand is expected to continue growing at a rate of 3 percent a year.

The plan places the highest priority on looking for cost-effective ways the state can become more energy efficient, suggesting that a goal for reducing energy use should be set for the next decade.

Other states have adopted similar energy-efficiency goals of 20 percent to 30 percent, the plan pointed out.

But conservation alone will not be enough to meet growing energy needs in the state, some council participants said.

"The idea in mind is it's certainly good for the environment, good for Georgia, good for our children and grandchildren, but there's a cost associated with it," said Stan Wise, the chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission who served as an ex-officio member on the energy council. "There's just not enough efficiencies and renewables that we can do to replace the need, unfortunately, for new plants, new pipelines, new transmission lines to serve Georgians."

State government operates more than 15,000 buildings and spends $140 million a year on electricity and natural gas.

The energy plan calls for the state to come up with a reduction goal and purchase more energy-efficient appliances.

But while the plan creates a Clean Energy Fund, the council could not come to an agreement about how the state should generate money for it.

PLAN RECOMMENDATIONS

Here are some of the suggestions that made it into the state's first energy use plan. The full report can be found at www.georgiaenergyplan.org.

- Create incentives for, and remove hurdles delaying, the adoption of efficient building technologies and practices

- Create incentives to increase the adoption of fuel-efficient vehicles

- Create a Georgia Clean Energy Fund for energy efficiency and other clean energy strategies

- Support for the deployment of integrated gasification and combined-cycle coal technology and advanced nuclear reactors

- Support development of biomass fuel industry and supporting public-private partnerships to coordinate renewable energy research and development

- Create a Georgia Renewable Transportation Fuels Advancement Fund

- Conduct a public awareness campaign to educate Georgians on how to improve energy efficiency

- Morris News Service



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