State tops in coal imports

State tops in coal imports

$2.6 billion a year spent

May 19th, 2010 in News

Electric utilities in Georgia buy more coal from other parts of the nation than those in any other state, according to a study released Tuesday.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said Georgia's dependence upon coal for nearly 63 percent of its electricity generation drains more than $2.6 billion a year from the economy of the Peach State. The average Georgian spent $270 in their power bills during 2008 for coal imported into the state from Central Appalachia, Wyoming and Colorado, according to the most recent data available on coal shipments and spending.

Staff File Photo by Juliette Coughlin Barges full of coal tied up on the Tennessee River by the temporary barge unloader at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Widows Creek Fossil Plant.

Staff File Photo by Juliette Coughlin Barges full of...

"Ratepayer dollars are diverted out of state instead of spent locally on renewable energy projects and energy efficiency measures that would benefit residents directly," said Jeff Deyett, one of the co-authors of the first-of-its-kind analysis of coal spending among the states.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit research organization, is pushing legislation to limit use of coal and other fossil fuels linked with global warming. The organization is urging Georgia to join 29 other states that have adopted standards or requirements for generating more power from renewable sources.

But coal supporters insist that coal remains the cheapest source of power generation in most of the Southeast and generates more jobs for every dollar spent.

"Far from costing states, those states that use mostly coal benefit from electricity rates that are less than half those in states that use mostly natural gas, for example, to generate electricity," said National Mining Association spokeswoman Carol Raulston, citing figures compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. "As such, this is a net benefit to energy consumers -- giving them more disposable income for other necessities."

In 2008, Georgia derived 62.7 percent of its electricity from coal, far exceeding the 23.2 percent of power derived from nuclear generation and the 9.8 percent from natural gas plants. Hydroelectric and other renewable energy sources in 2008 were only 3.6 percent of all the electricity generation in Georgia.

Jeff Wilson, a spokesman for Georgia Power Co., said the state's largest utility is moving to diversify its power portfolio beyond coal. The Atlanta-based utility plans to build two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Ga., and is planning to convert Plant Mitchell near Albany from coal to biomass using waste wood from forestry operations within 100 miles of the plant.

The study by the Union of Concerned Scientists suggests that Georgia has the technical ability to produce at least 84 percent of its power needs from renewable sources such as off-shore wind, solar generation, geothermal and biomass products from forests and grasslands.

Energy efficiency also could help limit the need to buy coal from other states. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that for every 1 percent reduction in electricity demand in Georgia, the state would save $79 million and avoid the need to send $41 million out of state for coal purchases.

"Energy efficiency is a terrific way to both save consumers money and to stimulate the local economy," said Barbara Freese, senior climate and energy policy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

TOP GEORGIA COAL IMPORTERS

1. Southern Co., $4.18 billion

2. Tennessee Valley Authority, $1.95 billion

3. American Electric Power, $1.87 billion

4. Duke Energy, $1.83 billion

5. Progress Energy, $1.5 billion

Source: Union of Concerned Scientists