June 27, 2013

Local utilities react to president’s climate change speech

Charles Oliver

— President Barack Obama on Tuesday outlined steps he was taking to reduce America’s greenhouse gases, including asking federal regulators to develop the first restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. But officials with utilities serving Dalton area customers say the United States need a comprehensive energy plan.

“We have been looking at bits and pieces of the picture and not the overall picture,” said Dalton Utilities President and CEO Don Cope.

“We need to find a way to use all of our resources in the most efficient manner and aggregate them together, whether it is natural gas or nuclear or coal of hydroelectric or wind power or solar or any number of developing and new technology,” Cope said. “We need a national policy that uses them all in the most economically viable manner.”

Cope and officials with other utilities say the industry is already taking steps to integrate different forms of energy and to reduce green houses gases.

Ron Hutchins, president and CEO of North Georgia Electric Membership Corp., said it and TVA have already reduced greenhouse emissions by 23 percent since 2005.

“Today, nuclear power and natural gas play an important role in TVA’s generation mix,” he said. “While carbon emissions are already falling in the U.S., emissions are rising in developing countries. The atmosphere is global. To make a difference, the strategy must include a global perspective. There is still much work to be done to find the right balance between protecting our environment and sustaining affordable energy in our nation,” he said.

Jeannice M.W. Hall, a spokeswoman for the Southern Company, said that “no one in the utility industry is doing more” to reduce its environmental impact.

“We look for points of intersection, and where we can agree is on an all of the above strategy that we’re already employing at Southern Company by leading the nuclear renaissance, building an innovative 21st century coal plant, tripling our percentage of natural gas generation over the past six years, adding 1,200 megawatts of renewables over the past year and saving enough capacity through our energy efficiency programs to power 925,000 homes for a year,” she said.

Hall said, “Congress is best equipped to develop a national energy policy that meets the needs of all sectors of our nation, striking an appropriate balance to protect the environment and ensure energy security.”

The Southern Company, which owns Georgia Power, is co-owner with Dalton Utilities, Oglethorpe Power and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia of Plant Vogtle, which has two nuclear reactors and two more currently under construction.

Cope said that renewables and other emerging forms of energy still can’t completely replace traditional forms of electricity generation.

“If the clouds cover the sun or the wind settles down or the flow of the water decreases, the lights go out. So something has to be running all the time to backup these renewables, and you don’t accomplish as much in the reduction of fossil fuels as you would think,” Cope said.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.VA., said that Obama’s plan to regulate existing power plants was a declaration of “war on coal.”

Cope said the industry has already begun closing down older coal-fired plants as regulations have driven the costs of operating them up. But Cope, noting that America has the world’s largest supply of coal, said coal needs to remain a part of the nation’s generating portfolio.

“We have several hundred years of coal supplies in the ground. Why not put the money that we put into research and development of other forms of energy into using coal more cleanly?” he said.