Climate Change Agreement, Local Reaction

Leaders from nearly 190 countries signed an historic agreement over the weekend, to work to combat climate change by elimination greenhouse gas emissions.

The agreement is a complicated one, much like the problem it attempts to solve.

“First of all, it is historic, trying to emphasize cleaner energy and move away from more damaging  energy production,” says Stephen Smith from the Southern Alliance on Clean Energy.  “I think that affects all nations of the world including the United States and in terms of Georgia, it’s an opportunity for the state to continue to grow its investment in cleaner energy and move away from dirtier coal fired power plants.”

Smith says the state can look at “cleaner technologies like renewables and solar.”

1st District Congressman Buddy Cater seemed less excited saying “you have to take into account the cost of this to the American taxpayers and not just in taxes but the increase in electricity rates.”

Carter believes a pending rule from the Obama Administration and the EPA to reduce greenhouse emissions by 30 percent by 2030 will adversely affect the coal industry, cause big losses in coal jobs and push up electric rates. “The overreach from the EPA is a concern,” he said.  “And we have people now who can’t afford electricity now.”

Smith offered a different take saying “there will need to be additional coal plants that close. But the good news is that in Georgia, new forms of renewable energy, especially solar production are going to create jobs.”

Georgia Power told us the company has already “retired” a number of coal and oil generated facilities in the past several years (including Plant Kraft in Port Wentworth) primarily because of tougher regulations already imposed on coal and anticipated regulations on coal. In addition to Plant Kraft in Chatham County, the company says coal units in Putnam, Coweta and Glynn County have also been closed or are in the process of closing.

In October, Georgia Power issued a news release saying it was joining other power companies in legal action to stop the EPA’s Clean Power Plan from being enforced.  The release said at that time that the plan could have “potential impacts on reliability and affordability of electricity in the state of Georgia.”

The release quoted Georgia Power Senior Vice President and Senior Production Officer John Pemberton who said “under EPA’s proposed compliance solution, the company would be required to retire 4,800 megawatts (MW) – more than 20 percent of its total capacity – of fossil fuel-fired generation by 2030. EPA’s compliance solution includes the premature closure of units at Plants Bowen, Hammond, McIntosh and Scherer, as well as Plant Gaston in Alabama.”

The company also said the EPA’s ruling could lead to higher production costs and increased costs to customers of up to $830 million plus the loss of nearly 800 jobs in 2016 and 2017.

But Smith said he doesn’t believe moving to cleaner energy forms has to be negative. “If Georgia would embrace new technologies it could maintain a leadership position in things like solar.  Those states that dig in their heels and cling to the past are probably going to be those who are going to suffer more economically in the job sector.”

An agreement in Paris may ultimately mean little in Georgia however if those challenging the EPA win their court battle.

Meanwhile, Congressman Carter who has been a critic of  climate change says he is becoming more open. He says he embraces new ideas but that coal should definitely not be off the table right now. “I don’t want to eliminate anything obviously. We want to be responsible and listen to the scientific community, but as of yet I am not convinced this (climate change) is going to be the problem that a lot of people think it is,” he said.

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