January 2007 Neely Young

Georgia has a chance to grab alternative energy's gold ring if only we are bold enough.
Neely Young

Our state has a chance to grab alternative energy’s gold ring if only we are bold enough. There is a boom in the clean energy business fueled by the desire to rid ourselves of dependence on Middle East oil, along with the security risks inherent in importing oil from that most dangerous region. There is concern about global warming as well as high oil and natural gas prices.

Georgia is expected to grow from our present 8.2 million population to almost 11 million people in just eight years. It is critical that Georgia’s leaders take steps soon to make our state’s energy producers safe for the future.

Last March, Gov. Sonny Perdue created a statewide comprehensive energy task force that just released its final report. It is directed by Elizabeth Robertson, who heads up the state’s Division of Energy Resources. Robertson’s task was to design a policy to bring a future characterized by affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible energy.

Georgia Trend magazine recently produced a three-part series, written by Senior Editor Jerry Grillo, on energy. You can check out the stories on our new and improved Web site, www.georgiatrend.com.

The first of the series was a story concerning the gas “pipe-line bill” that was promoted unsuccessfully in the General Assembly last year. AGL Resources, the Atlanta-based natural gas distributor, wanted to install a procedure to finance the building of a new pipeline that would bypass the normal rate increase procedure through the Georgia Public Service Commission by recovering AGL’s costs through a surcharge rider.

After much debate, the bill failed in the Senate. This issue needs to be revisited – no matter how it is financed. Even though gas prices have moderated from their highs of $3 a gallon, world oil prices will push all sectors of the global energy market toward natural gas. Georgia could be a leader in this area, if the legislature and the Georgia Public Service Commission will take the long view – not just consider the present situation, where logic says we have enough capacity.

A side benefit to building a gas pipeline from the coast to the Atlanta area would be to build alongside it a water pipeline that would take desalinized water from the Atlantic Ocean for farms in South Georgia and to North Georgia.

This would be an expensive method of solving our state’s looming water dilemma. To make it happen, state subsidies would have to be included in the financing plan. However, this would be less expensive in the long run than some of the alternatives. One successful example of using desalinization methods to solve water problems is in South Florida, where state and local leaders have successfully used a mix of water conservation, living filter recycling of gray water and desalinization to provide clean, drinkable water.

Our second installment in the energy series zeroed in on Georgia Power’s plan to double the size of its nuclear facility, Plant Vogtle, located along the Savannah River in middle Georgia. The stars are coming together for nuclear power because of the additional fears of global warming from coal-fired, dirty air electrical power plants. Many people, including some in the environmental community, have embraced the concept because it will produce additional energy and help clean the air. Our state leaders should lend their support.

Last month, our final series segment explored green energy developments in Georgia. Alternative energy is “the next big thing” for America’s venture capital community. Total U.S. private investment going into clean energy including wind power, solar power and ethanol – made from trees and corn – is estimated to reach $63 billion this year. The price gap between electricity generated by oil, natural gas and coal and that generated by alternatives has shrunk, but it still exists. The long-term practicality of clean energy relies on government subsidies to make it competitive with fossil fuels.

Georgia, however, is lagging behind because our state doesn’t provide such subsidies. Other states are far ahead of us in this arena. Private venture capital would flood into our state if we were to provide matching funds and other inducements.

The results of Gov. Perdue’s Energy Policy Council report must not just be studied and then placed on a dusty shelf. We need an Energy Crusade that will take a long term view to solving our growing energy and water problems. This legislative session we can grab the gold ring, and make Georgia the top energy state in the nation.

Neely Young is editor in chief and publisher of Georgia Trend. Contact him via e-mail at publisher@georgiatrend.com.

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