Environmental Issues Impacting the State of Georgia (Part Three)

Alan Bailey
9 min read4 days ago

In the past two articles of this series, I have written about a wide range of environmental problems that wreak havoc across Georgia and burden our citizens. The first discussed toxic coal ash deposits and pollution in the Chattahoochee River Basin while the second explored invasive species, cultural eutrophication and sedimentation in the Chattahoochee, and air pollution’s effects on minority communities. People who live in Georgia deserve to know what’s going on and strive for a better future.

This final entry covers rising temperatures and worsening storm systems due to climate change, unsustainable energy use in the state by entities such as Georgia Power, and rising energy costs that consumers can barely afford to pay. These topics are critical in our daily conversations, not just with our state government, but amongst our family and friends. They play a role in all our lives no matter if you’re a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, or any other political ideology. That’s what is both awful and, ironically, beautiful about our plight. Every one of us shares a connection with each other and the same goes for all life on Earth, so, depending on how we react to these crises, we can determine what kind of future we’ll have. The list resumes below.

6. Rising Temperatures and Worsening Storm Systems

One of the most relatable observations of climate change is the rise of average annual temperatures each year, our planet having reached approximately 1.2℃ of warming as experts from the IPCC warn that we must keep it below 1.5℃ to avoid the worst effects. Research has shown that Georgia’s record-breaking summer last year was highly connected to climate change. Georgia is infamous for its summers, but as every year since 2015 has been the hottest on record, we can only expect the thermometer to keep rising. Andrew Pershing of Climate Central found that 81% of the global population experienced climate change-attributed heat.

In particular, “The attribution that Pershing is referring to comes from a tool that the foundation, Climate Central, created last year called the Climate Shift Index (CSI). The CSI uses a ‘multi-method’ approach to quantify the likelihood that weather on a particular day was in fact attributed to climate change.” In July, for example, the state’s minimum average was approximately 71 F which is 2 degrees above normal. This poses a threat to us and other mammals since we’re warm-blooded and depend on lower temperatures to cool down.

Furthermore, “Columbus experienced level 3 heat and above for seven days between July 18–29. The last five days in August of extreme heat in Columbus have all been at level 3 and above, several at level 5, meaning the heat has been three-to-five times more likely this week because of human-caused climate change. On July 26 Atlanta and Macon experienced temperatures that were four times as likely due to climate change and Columbus’ temperatures that day were three times as likely due to climate change.” More information can be accessed at https://www.gpb.org/news/2023/08/21/gas-record-hot-temps-summer-connect-climate-change-now-you-can-see-for-yourself#:~:text=Georgia%27s%20climate%20shift%20In%20July&text=Most%20of%20Georgia%27s%20heat%20on,climate%20change%20on%20July%2026.&text=On%20Aug.,change%2C%20according%20to%20Climate%20Central.

Stronger storms systems and droughts have been another concern as they have been responsible for widespread economic damages. This has prompted state experts to start developing ways to build a more resilient Georgia. The Pew Charitable Trusts found that, “From 2012 to 2022, Georgia saw 50 weather-related disasters that caused $1 billion or more in damage. The high economic and emotional toll of these disasters has Georgia’s residents, leaders, and resilience experts seeking solutions.” This year is no different as NOAA predicts this to be possibly the busiest hurricane season on record, leaving us at risk of more potential damages should one or more of them brush close enough or go through the state. The data above was found at https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2024/02/15/in-georgia-stakeholders-and-experts-envision-a-more-resilient-future.

Hurricane Michael devastated parts of Georgia in 2018 and serves as a warning of how worse storms could become here. Source: South Georgians Share Stories Of Fear As Michael Moved Through State | Georgia Public Broadcasting (gpb.org)

On the bright side, there are positive developments taking place here in the renewable sector that can help reduce the possibility of future disasters. Solar power has found a home and inspires Georgians to make the switch. According to The Nature Conservancy, “Shifting from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy is vital to achieving the low-carbon future we need to combat climate change. Fortunately, Georgia’s land characteristics and plentiful sunshine make the state perfect for home-grown renewable energy. Combined with technology advances that have vastly improved the cost effectiveness of solar energy, the state’s solar industry is growing quickly. Between 2019 and 2021, Georgia’s solar energy generation nearly doubled, and the state is among the top 10 in the U.S. for installed solar capacity.”

However, “Georgia currently generates approximately 1,500 megawatts of solar energy, which accounts for only 2% of the state’s energy portfolio (the rest coming from a mix of natural gas, coal, nuclear, biomass and other sources). If solar were to expand to comprise 20% of the state’s overall energy generation, this could require an additional 75,000 acres of land.” While no source of energy is perfect, there are ways that The Nature Conservancy is working to minimize any negative effects on sensitive lands as well as habitats. They have developed a mapping tool to assist solar developers in appropriately siting their projects, so, if given the chance, Georgia has the potential to become more energy independent.

State officials, on the other hand, don’t appear to be as accommodating as one would think. This will be explained in the last section of the article that deals with unsustainable uses of energy. Go to https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/georgia/stories-in-georgia/georgia-climate-solutions/#:~:text=Expanding%20Solar%20Power%20in%20Georgia,for%20home%2Dgrown%20renewable%20energy for more information on solar.

7. Rising Energy Costs and Unsustainable Energy Use

On top of all these major problems, Georgia residents are contending with higher utility bills, paying more than the national average thanks to the amount of authority the Georgia Public Service Commission has given to Georgia Power. As temperatures keep climbing during the brutal summer months, we need access to air conditioning and affordable utilities more than ever, but less people are able to live comfortably. There is no excuse for exploiting people, especially minority communities that, as we’ve seen, are hit harder by the effects of climate change.

As reported by Axios, “The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) estimates customers could see $45 more per month by the end of 2025. Another $16 per month will eventually hit thanks to last year’s regular rate increase to fund new grid investments. Plus, SELC estimates eventually, an additional $14 will be added on to cover the construction costs of nuclear power Plant Vogtle.” In 2022, more than 240,000 Georgia Power residential customers had their power cut off for nonpayment.

For Plant Vogtle, Units 3 and 4 experienced delays which resulted in the project doubling its original budget at more than $30 billion. Advocates are angry that consumers are now paying double, prices for both fuel recovery and Georgia Power’s delays, when the need to buy more natural gas would have been less had those units come online sooner. In such a rapidly growing state like Georgia, the people deserve better. Information in this section was cited from https://www.axios.com/local/atlanta/2023/05/10/georgia-power-bills-rising.

Units 3 and 4 of Plant Vogtle have finally come online after delays that are proving to be costly to Georgia consumers. Source: Plant Vogtle Expansion in the Spotlight: billion$ more at risk — SACE | Southern Alliance for Clean EnergySACE | Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

Now we return to the problem facing solar. In 2020, the Georgia Public Service Commission created the popular rooftop solar pilot program which gave residents opportunities to take advantage of solar power’s benefits. However, 2022 saw the PSC fail to expand the program, cutting off more potential customers from participating. The Solar Energy Industries Association sharply rebuked the commission’s decision. They specifically pointed out that the PSC adopted Georgia Power’s anti-solar proposals to keep a netting structure while introducing a $100 interconnection fee for new customers. A rate increase was also approved across the board.

Thatcher Young, a board member of the Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association, stated, “The solar industry is disappointed in the elected members of the PSC for not representing the voice and the needs of Georgia ratepayers during these extraordinary economic times. The monthly netting pilot saw a 300% increase in new rooftop solar applications in under 12 months during a global pandemic, and clearly demonstrates what customers are looking for in the market. However, instead of a modest expansion, new solar customers will now pay more and get less. As is often the case with the PSC, this decision demonstrates the strength of GPC’s influence over the voices of its customers.”

Programs like these could potentially end our reliance on natural gas in the long-term coupled with the cleaner energy that Plant Vogtle is able to generate despite its own debacle. The closing of almost all the coal-fired power plants in Georgia is a clear sign that times are changing. It’s up to Georgia Power and the PSC to take advantage of the resources available now. Read the SEIA’s full report here: https://www.seia.org/news/georgia-psc-vote-prioritizes-utility-profits-over-residents-and-solar-customers.

Georgia also has the chance to take advantage of the opportunities outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act. Per the Department of Energy, “In 2022, there were already 203,319 Georgia workers employed in the energy sector. 54% of the electric power generation workforce was in wind, solar, and hydroelectric, and over 55,000 workers were employed in energy efficiency. The Inflation Reduction Act is expanding these opportunities, bringing an estimated $180 million of investment in large-scale clean power generation and storage to Georgia between now and 2030.”

Even better, “Georgia is home to 1.2 million small businesses, representing 99.6% of all businesses and employing 42% of all workers in the state, and the Inflation Reduction Act will help them save money. Commercial building owners can receive a tax credit up to $5 per square foot to support energy efficiency improvements that deliver lower utility bills. Other programs that will benefit small businesses include tax credits covering 30% of the costs of installing low-cost solar power and of purchasing clean trucks and vans for commercial fleets.”

Electric vehicles and batteries are seeing their own benefits. The DOE has tracked more than 24 facilities that add up to over $29 billion and over 23,000 jobs. The state now has over 4,400 EV charging ports and is slated to receive over $28.7 million in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to build even more. The latest building energy codes will now be possible through grants to help state and local governments, saving the average new homeowner in Georgia around 15.1% on utility bills (an equivalent of $327 per year). Learn more at https://www.energy.gov/articles/energy-facts-impact-investing-america-agenda-georgia-0.

A simulation of the massive electric vehicle plant being built in Georgia from Hyundai and LG Energy Solutions that aims to hire more than 8,000 people. Source: Hyundai and LG will invest an additional $2 billion at Georgia EV plant (cbtnews.com)

Now, the PSC is under scrutiny with the U.S. Supreme Court requiring the state to reform how the commission’s members are elected, and the Good Energy Collective suggests that it shift to single-member districts for elections. The GEC has been vocal about increasing community participation in cost allocations for different proposed projects. This is something that has been needed for a long time now.

The GEC posits, “As consumers in vertically integrated electricity markets often have no choice regarding their electricity provider, these markets tend to ignore consumer preferences in policymaking. In Georgia, refunding the Consumers’ Utility Counsel (CUC) is one step to allow interested parties to have their voices heard in decision-making. Enabling meaningful citizen participation in decision-making by funding a functioning CUC could act as a check on larger projects, allowing for oversight from community members who shoulder project costs.”

It also states, “While high-income ratepayers may not feel the impact of the monthly $20–25 rate increase from Plant Vogtle, the spike could make a world of difference for families living from paycheck to paycheck. Utilities such as Georgia Power could consider establishing a progressive energy tax that charges higher-income customers more for their electricity usage. The fees from this program could go to support the electricity bills of lower-income households.” Visit https://www.goodenergycollective.org/policy/over-budget-overburdened-the-justice-implications-of-clean-energy-deployment-in-georgia for further reading.

In conclusion, Georgia has a multitude of environmental problems that must be addressed as soon as possible. But there are just as many solutions available if we know how to advocate for them. It’s up to us as citizens of this state to let our leaders know that we will not tolerate these issues any longer, and the same goes for those affecting the country at large. I hope these articles serve as a catalyst for such change, opening the eyes of those who read them as much as the research I conducted opened mine.

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Alan Bailey

I'm a graduate of LaGrange College with a B.S. in Biology and a student of environmental science at SNHU. I strive to help our planet in every way I can.