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ECHOLS: Reliability - A Georgia Priority
Tim Echols
Tim Echols

I take reliability seriously.

Georgia’s demand for electricity is growing and more capacity is needed to maintain essential reliability. Although we are growing our use of solar and nuclear energy, we are still dependent on a diverse mix of fuels, including natural gas, to provide energy when we really need it.  Here’s why it matters.

First, people are coming to Georgia to live, work and play—and it takes ample electricity to power their opportunities.   That includes supporting community development and job providers such as manufacturers, studios, hospitality, and small business.

 “Capacity” on the power grid can be real or virtual. The recent vote on our Integrated Resource Plan included large batteries in shipping-like containers, gas turbines, and even smart thermostats that can be turned on and off with an algorithm for interested customers.  As we add batteries at utility-scale solar sites, we can count on solar even more to help reliably serve customers. I often say batteries are like bacon—it makes everything better.

Second, as more energy load develops on our system, we need to maintain our reserve margin of power.  The Commission’s recent vote protects that reliability ensuring that customers benefit from system growth. This margin isn’t used every week, or even every month—but when we need it, we really need it. Reserve margin is like insurance—but protecting homes and businesses against outages. Despite rigorous preventive maintenance on our grid system and power plants, extreme temperatures still stress the system. Power plants can trip off.  Large lines can be rendered temporarily out of service. Therefore, we have to maintain our readiness.  Other states have reserve margins less than ours.  It is not unusual to see public alerts going out in those states asking people to throttle back their usage.  We really don’t want to do that in Georgia, and we build our system to withstand the extremes.

Third, while Georgia has been in the top 10 for solar for five years running, we still rely heavily on fossil fuels to power our generating plants. In fact, natural gas is critical in growing our use of renewables. Noted expert Georgia Tech professor, Marilyn Brown PhD, attributes natural gas with drastically improving Atlanta’s air quality.  Why?  Because natural gas is cleaner than other fossil resources.  How clean? CO2 emissions are cut of half.  The bottom line: energy resources are most valuable when they all work together. 

Nationally, high energy costs have been driven by the pandemic, global conflicts, and rising interest rates. The PSC decision is projected to reduce rates an average of $2.89 per residential customer per month. That means 2.3 million Georgia Power households will be saving over $82 million as a result of our decision. In times of inflation like we are experiencing today, any size reduction can help.  

How can you add more energy yet reduce costs for existing customers?  The Commission insisted that new, large energy users foot the bill for this expansion in energy infrastructure. In fact, existing customers will benefit from the increased capacity and supply.   We simply have to make investments to upgrade our transmission system, add smart technologies and acquire needed capacity for our future.  It is what Georgians are counting on us to do.

Your Public Service Commission has prioritized growth, prosperity and making Georgia a top place to live. We have helped oversee a more resilient grid, smarter technology, and a cleaner environment. We have listened to our constituents and taken action. Let’s work together to keep Georgia great…and growing.

Tim Echols is Vice-Chair of the Georgia PSC. He has owned 7 EVs, has solar on his home, and co-chair the Hydrogen Energy Braintrust.