If everything goes according to plan, there’s going to be 1,000 megawatts — 1 gigawatt — of clean energy added to the mix supplied by Georgia Power by 2024. And by the time the plan’s officially approved, there could be even more.

State Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols discussed the possibility Monday at an event organized by the state Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division as a way to enhance the public part of public policy.

“So, we are funded entirely by NOAA, and we are responsible for managing coastal resources partnerships with other agencies, our universities and also other public stakeholders, and part of that is putting on these ‘brown bag’ series, trying to highlight coastal research projects, exciting, new things that are happening on the coast, so we really appreciate Tim coming down and talking to us about clean energy, something that we definitely focus on,” said Kelly Hill of CRD. “If anyone is ever interested in a specific subject area or would like to bring something to our attention, feel free to reach out.”

Every three years, since 1991, the state requires Georgia Power to submit a new 20-year plan detailing how it’s going to meet the state’s energy needs. The company filed its latest 20-year plan Jan. 31 to the Public Service Commission.

“So, this is the year where we’re doing this, and the five commissioners — which you have a hand in electing, because all five of us stand in staggered elections every six years,” Echols said. “The commissioners, after everybody has their say — nonprofits, businesses, lobbyists for the industrial groups, lobbyists for the Georgia Restaurant Association — after everybody has their say on how they think it should work, the five commissioners will vote later this year on this Georgia Power written plan and exactly how we think it should go in the final version.”

There’s 180 days of consideration. After that, the PSC has to either nix the plan outright, amend it or approve it. A significant aspect is the growth of renewable energy to the mix within the next five years.

“In 2005, coal was 50 percent of what we had,” Echols said. “Now, it’s 23, and it’s going to go down to 21 by 2024. You can see it’s decreasing. Look at renewables — they don’t even show up here (in 2005) — 8 percent in ’19, and we’re about to approve a bunch of solar at the commission, probably more than, I’ll make (Georgia Power area manager) Paulo (Albuquerque) put earplugs in right now, but Georgia Power wants to do 1,000 megawatts, but I’ve heard from one of my colleagues, who’s about to retire, who wants this to be his legacy, he said, ‘No, no, no. We’re going to double it. At least.’”

At the current projected 1,000 megawatts, that still takes renewables from 8 percent to 18 percent of the capacity mix. Over that same period, natural gas drops from 46 percent to 36 percent. Nuclear, with Plant Vogtle units coming online, is expected to increase from 10 to 13 percent, while hydroelectric power stays constant at 5 percent. All things considered, fossil fuels — coal, gas and oil — decline from 72 percent of the mix to 60 percent over five years.

“Working with the Georgia Public Service Commission, we have invested in a diverse energy mix of nuclear, natural gas, hydro, renewables, coal and energy efficiency resources in order to maintain high levels of reliability for our customers that have resulted in rates that are 15 percent below the national average,” Allen Reaves, Georgia Power’s senior vice president and senior production officer, said in a statement upon the filing of the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan.

Affecting those fossil fuel declines are decisions to decertify several coal units across the state — Echols said the expense to run them is simply too high — and the decision not to renew leases with natural gas plants just over the state line in Alabama.

Cleaning up decades of accumulated coal ash, though, will be costly.

“You can imagine — these are like giant lakes of ash, and they’re deep,” Echols said. “I looked at an empty one a couple weeks ago in McDonough, and it looked like a quarry down there. I’m going, it’s an unbelievable amount of — I mean, how many truckloads did you haul out of there? And that’s why it’s going to be billions of dollars. Three, four, maybe more. I’m saying, billions, to move all this stuff.”

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