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Energy plan: Pursue the new, keep the old

ATLANTA - Georgia should develop new energy resources but not abandon the old reliables.

That's the theme of the state's first energy plan, released late last week by a 22-member committee created by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The Governor's Energy Policy Council stresses energy efficiency and renewable energy in its 138-page report, no surprise in light of the marching orders Perdue gave when he announced the plan more than a year ago.

In the 2005 version of the Governor's Environmental Address held each year in Gwinnett County, Perdue spoke just weeks after hurricanes Katrina and Rita had disrupted fuel supplies in Georgia and other states, causing gasoline prices to soar above $3 a gallon.

He said more aggressive efforts to conserve energy and develop alternative sources would be key to improving Georgia's energy security.

But the new plan, released on Friday, also advocates continued reliance upon coal and natural gas and supports the planned expansion of Georgia's nuclear generating capacity.

"Renewables or alternative sources only account for about 6 percent of our energy," said Robin Keegan, spokeswoman for AGL Resources, an Atlanta-based natural gas distributor. "The backbone of energy sources such as natural gas will have to stay in place and grow."

Both AGL and Georgia Power Co. were represented on the council that developed the plan. But so were members of the General Assembly and environmental groups.

As a result, there's something in the plan for everyone.

Environmental advocates were excited to see the state paying attention to energy efficiency and renewable energy.

In fact, the plan identifies pursuing "all cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities" as its top priority. To do that, it suggests setting a 10-year energy efficiency goal for reducing the forecast rate of growth in energy demand through the use of energy-saving technologies.

According to the plan, state government should lead that effort by example, setting energy efficiency goals for public buildings and increasing fuel efficiencies in the state's vehicle fleet.

The plan also urges state policy makers to do everything they can to take advantage of Georgia's abundance of farm crops and timber that are suitable to producing biofuels, including ethanol and biodiesel.

"The plan really gives a lot of lip service to the fact that Georgia needs to ramp up its energy efficiencies and develop more renewables because the status quo isn't going to work in the future," said Jennette Gayer, an advocate with Environment Georgia. "We think it's a step in the right direction."

No nukes

Environmentalists are less enthusiastic over the plan's endorsement of a proposal to expand Plant Vogtle, a nuclear power facility near Augusta.

They argue that producing nuclear energy creates a huge disposal problem involving dangerous radioactive wastes and requires tremendous amounts of water.

"It will only make our communities more vulnerable," said Mary Carr, a research associate with the Atlanta office of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "What Georgia needs

is safe, clean, affordable

energy."

Suzanne Robertson, director of energy resources for the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, acknowledged that nuclear energy was a source of contention among council members. The council's report notes that a majority of the members, but not all, supported the recommendation on Plant Vogtle.

"We had some very passionate people from different arenas," Robertson said. "Emotions sometimes got excited."

Another area of disagreement focused on two dedicated funds the plan urges the governor and state lawmakers to create to pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Early drafts of the plan suggested the money could come from a fee on utility bills. But by the time the final version was put together, that idea had been dropped in favor of asking the governor to suggest a funding mechanism.

As with any plan, the council's recommendations will only be as good as what Perdue and the General Assembly do with them.

Gayer said she hopes to see the governor turn the recommendations on energy efficiency and renewable energy into bills for lawmakers to consider when they begin the 2007 session next month.

Perdue wasn't making any commitments on Friday, having just received the council's report.

"The governor appreciates the hard work of the council and looks forward to reviewing the recommendations," said Bert Brantley, Perdue's new press secretary.