plant bowen

Coal-fired power station Plant Bowen in Euharlee, Georgia. (Courtesy/Seth Latta)

Two University of Georgia masters students in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources are a part of a student-led coalition focused on promoting better renewable energy goals in Georgia with a broader goal of combating climate change.

The coalition, which currently has no official name, is made up of students from a multitude of environmental focused organizations across the state and was co-founded by a student at Georgia Tech, Mark Putman, who also serves as the state director of Voters of Tomorrow, an organization dedicated to mobilizing young voters.

The current goal: participate in as much outreach as possible before the Georgia Public Service Commission approves the Georgia Power Integrated Resource Plan proposal on July 21, setting the organization’s energy goals for the next few years until the next reevaluation.

A local tie

A part of this coalition is Sunrise Movement Athens, a local chapter of the Sunrise Movement which fights to stop climate change and for climate justice.

Master’s student David Weber, who is studying wildlife management, works as a coordinator for the Sunrise Movement and said he found out about the coalition a few months ago when an email from Putman was forwarded to him.

After meeting completely virtually every few weeks, the organizations involved agreed to sign on to a letter directed to the Georgia Public Service Commission, which oversees the telecommunications, electric and natural gas services in the state to ensure reliability and reasonable pricing.

“The purpose of the letter is to show the commission that there is this broad coalition of young people in Georgia that are demanding the commission takes seriously the threat of climate change, and the Southern Company’s own commitment to net zero emissions by rapidly transitioning Georgia to a clean energy future,” Weber said.

The Southern Company is a nationwide gas and electric company that owns and operates Georgia Power. The company pledged to have net-zero emissions by 2050.

Weber said he also reached out to other organizations at UGA and was successful in recruiting the UGA chapter of the American Fisheries Society to sign onto the letter.

As part of outreach efforts, Weber said Sunrise Movement helped coordinate a town hall meeting in May in a partnership with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to inform attendees of the purpose of the commission and allow people to give public comments to the commission.

Public comments can be submitted by anyone via the commission’s website and are intended to provide relevant feedback before a commission vote. Comments must be submitted 24 hours before a vote.

Georgia Power submits an IRP detailing its energy plan for the next 20 years and provides updates every three years, which are subject to approval by the commission.

The proposal

The letter details several requests in how to improve the IRP to fully satisfy the energy goals set by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy because “Georgia Power’s proposal falls woefully short,” said the proposal.

The main requests to the committee are to accelerate the closure of coal plants, increase support for the use of solar energy and reduce residential barriers to solar energy.

“It is a better option for our wallets and our planet to use energy-efficiency measures to close gaps between energy demand and generation instead of expanding fossil fuels,” said the proposal. “The executives of Georgia Power serve their investors by protecting their bottom line. However, the Public Service Commissioners of Georgia have a duty to the people of Georgia.”

Master’s student Anna Ellis, who is studying forestry, works as a hub coordinator for Sunrise Movement and as the social media co-lead. Ellis said she is working with Weber on making infographics and helpful visuals to inform the public on the IRP and the upcoming vote. 

“A lot of people have concerns about fossil fuels but they don’t know where to place their concerns,” Ellis said. “I think that’s a goal of ours, to spread awareness of it.”

Ellis said the Sunrise Movement will also be looking to support candidates in the upcoming midterm elections who support green energy in an effort to “push Georgia more green.”

Both Ellis and Weber emphasized a last final push for public comment submitted to the commission will be during a phone banking drive in the coming week, which will involve those participating in calling the public service commissioners and urging them to support the goals laid out by the proposal, which are also supported by many clean energy advocates statewide.

“[It’s important to] understand the effects that climate change will have on more marginalized communities in Georgia,” Ellis said. “I just feel really strongly on wanting to see us move towards actions that will help mitigate climate change because it's scary to be aware of what the consequences likely will be.”