James.qxp Jan Feb 2019 web - Page 35

s we head into 2019, the overall picture for Georgia
is very bright. The state’s economy has been surging. With more than 10.5 million residents in
2018, growth projections show that the
Atlanta metro region alone will grow by more than 2.5 million by 2040, with the rest of the state following suit.
Unemployment is down to 3.6 percent, from a high of 10.6
percent in 2010 and Georgia continues to be one of the top
states to do business nationally. With all of the positive economic indicators, it is easy to see why Georgia is poised to
continue to lead American growth far into the future.
One important element in helping to fuel Georgia’s
growth is the availability of affordable and reliable electricity. Georgia ranks eighth among the 50 states in both
electricity generation and retail sales of electricity through
a healthy mix of natural gas, nuclear power, coal and
renewables— all of which will be needed for the state to
meet the demands of a booming population and economy.
While coal-fired plants used to provide more than
three-fifths of Georgia’s electricity, natural gas has been
the largest source of electric generation since 2012. In
2018, natural gas has supplied roughly 44 percent of the
state’s electricity needs. The shale gas revolution, which
has seen natural gas development in the United States
more than double since 2008, has resulted in spot market
prices for natural gas dropping from a high of $12.69 per
million BTU in July 2008 to less than $3.00 per million
BTU today— savings that have been passed on to
ratepayers through lower electricity prices.
Although the United States is blessed to have such
massive natural gas reserves available for production, the
need to build infrastructure like natural gas pipelines to
bring those resources to Georgia remains a concern. As
in other areas of the country, anti-development activists
have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to deploy wellcoordinated campaigns against pipelines.
These activists have challenged pipelines at the federal, state and local levels, and filed hundreds of lawsuits
to stop projects even after they have gone through
exhaustive reviews, and have received all of the permits
needed for construction. As Georgia looks to expand natural gas use to meet the demand for residential use, commercial uses or electricity generation, it will need to take
a long-term view of the benefits that low-cost, clean natural gas can bring to Georgia.
Georgia is a national leader when it comes to nuclear
power with two existing nuclear plants that provide
roughly one-fourth of the state’s electricity and is home to
the only ongoing nuclear reactor construction project in
the country. These reactors, which were the first to be
approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in
over 30 years, will generate more than 2,200 megawatts
of capacity to the grid. Once these units are online,
Vogtle will generate enough electricity to power more
than 1,000,000 Georgia homes and businesses.
Georgia has also seen a dramatic expansion of solar
generation over the past five years. The declining costs of
residential, community and large-scale projects have fostered this growth nationally and in Georgia, where solar
capacity has jumped from just 116 megawatts of capacity
in 2013 to 1,566 in 2017.
In July 2018, Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA)
released a report entitled, “Incentivizing Solar Energy: An
In-Depth Analysis of U.S. Solar Incentives.” The report
found that the total incentives available for installing a
direct-owned solar PV system in Georgia were 50 percent
of the total systems costs, while third-party-owned systems were incentivized at 81 percent of the total costs.
Although solar energy provides about 1.5 percent of the
electricity generated in Georgia today, the prices for a
typical solar system have fallen by 43 percent over the
past five years and the Solar Energy Industries
Association projects that the state will add 2,379
megawatts of capacity over the next five years.
All of this energy diversification is good news, especially as Georgia’s economy is in fantastic shape. The
construction and transportation sectors are exploding
with growth. Georgia manufacturers provide more than
480,000 jobs and Georgia farmers provide more than $9.2
billion to the State’s economy, and the State is attracting
new businesses every day.
But, in order to meet the energy demands of this
growing economy, Georgia policymakers need to continue to develop and implement sound, rational, balanced
energy policies. They need to keep existing power plants
online, support the completion of the new nuclear reactors at the Vogtle Power Plant, and foster the development of new natural gas infrastructure while allowing for
sustainable growth of renewable sources like solar power.
Michael Whatley is the executive vice president of the Consumer Energy Alliance.


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