So it really is possible to have both cleaner energy and lower costs.
Just not quite yet, and not without a lot of study, commitment and hard work.
Professor Marilyn Brown at Georgia Tech's School of Public Policy has authored a just-released study that says Southern energy companies need to phase out coal consumption in favor of natural gas in the production of electricity. The result would be not just cleaner but more efficient energy, which would reduce demand and thereby cut costs.
"You can reduce CO2 emissions in a multitude of different ways and [still produce] lower-cost energy," Brown told the Atlanta Business Chronicle. "It all depends on how these reductions are achieved."
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Don't be misled by the "public policy" part of Brown's resume; she's a scientist, not a wonk. (Her previous career was in research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.) The just-completed Tech study indicates that more aggressive reduction of coal would allow compliance with pollution guidelines without higher costs.
The study gives decidedly mixed grades to Georgia's premier utility. Georgia Power Co., Brown said, is one of the South's leaders in solar power. But like most other utility companies, it has been slow to invest in research to improve efficiency: "The problem with energy efficiency," Brown said, "is the utilities don't get the return on investment they get from new construction." Which, of course, is another way of saying that while efficiency pays off for the consumer, new construction pays off far more handsomely for the utility and its shareholders.
In any case, some progress toward cleaner energy might be inevitable, Brown said. A combination of stricter federal emissions standards and the aging of coal-fired plants will result in utilities moving toward cleaner alternatives.
There is no miracle of safe, clean, efficient and inexpensive energy in our immediate future. But against the backdrop of bitter debates (and worse) over tapping energy reserves, building pipelines, preserving fragile ecosystems and kicking our addiction to foreign oil, any hopeful and positive developments are welcome.
Don't bet against it
Gov. Nathan Deal says he still opposes gambling in Georgia. But amid all the talk of casinos in Atlanta, the governor took a bit of a political detour around the issue.
As reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Deal was asked a hypothetical question about the possibility of broad legislative and popular support for gambling.
"I don't have to sign anything for it to become law," he said.
Meaning: If the governor neither signs nor vetoes a bill within 40 days after the end of a legislative session, it becomes law by default.
The odds, it seems, are shifting.