PSC approves energy plan to mixed reviews

ATLANTA - Georgia Power Co.'s new long-range energy plan strikes a reasonable balance between additional generating capacity and greater energy efficiency, the chairman of the state Public Service Commission said Thursday.

But some environmental activists criticized the plan as leaning too heavily on new plant construction - including nuclear power - and not enough on more efficient use of electricity.

The plan, approved unanimously by the PSC Thursday, outlines Georgia Power's strategy for meeting its customers' energy needs during the next 20 years.

It follows a request the utility filed last month to raise rates by $406 million, an average of $6.67 on monthly residential bills.

The plan is the product of extensive hearings and negotiations between the utility, the commission's staff and a host of intervenors.

Most of the intervening parties approved the plan, from the Citizens' Utility Council to the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to Longleaf Energy - an out-of-state company planning to build a coal-fired plant in Early County.

"The number of parties that signed off on it is a pretty good indicator that it's a balanced compromise," PSC Chairman Bobby Baker said after Thursday's vote.

The plan consists of 15 stipulations, a series of commitments by Georgia Power both to augment current power supplies with new generating capacity and to reduce demand for electricity through energy efficiency.

The utility will expand its demand-reduction efforts with a series of projects, including:

n a refrigerator and freezer recycling program, to work in conjunction with the annual state sales tax holiday for energy efficient appliances

n a giveaway of energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs

n a giveaway of insulation blankets for electric water heaters

n a rebate offer for residential customers who install programmable thermostats

n a program to help homebuilders and commercial customers qualify for federal tax incentives for more efficient use of energy.

Some of the projects were proposed by Georgia Power, while the company agreed to undertake others during the negotiations.

"The programs we proposed are both achievable and effective," Georgia Power spokesman John Sell said. "The ones that were added are certainly achievable and, hopefully, will be effective."

On the supply side, the utility committed to developing cost-effective renewable resources of energy and to study the latest technologies designed to reduce emissions from coal-burning power plants.

Environmental groups have pushed for commitments on both of those fronts.

But environmental activists were sharply critical Thursday about the plan's endorsement of nuclear power as an option.

Georgia Power is considering building two new nuclear reactors at the company's Plant Vogtle near Augusta.

In a news release dated Thursday, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy argued that nuclear plants would more expensive than other alternatives and would drain precious water resources.

"Water-hungry nuclear power is one of the many reasons why a new course of action that holds Georgia Power accountable to providing robust, well-run energy efficiency programs and supplying renewable energy resources is imperative," Sara Barczak of the alliance said in a prepared statement.

During hearings on the long-range plan, energy efficiency experts testified that efficiency would be the least expensive option for Georgia Power to pursue.