The Potential for Clean Energy in Georgia

As carbon dioxide levels on our planet continue to increase, many states have enacted legislation to reduce gas production. Although a state with a massive opportunity to produce clean power instead of carbon dioxide, Georgia has fallen behind in the race to decrease carbon dioxide levels. Data recorded in 2019 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration exhibited Georgia as the 11th most carbon dioxide-producing state, emitting a total of 136.5 million metric tons of carbon within the year.[1]

In recent years, Georgia has not taken any significant steps to reduce this number and has pushed back against efforts to do so. For example, in 2017, Georgia (along with other states) challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan in court. The proposed plan aimed to reduce carbon dioxide levels emitted from power plants by 2005 by 2030, but Georgia rejected this idea.[2] Additionally, in 2021, it was measured that only 11.5% of Georgia’s utility-scale electricity generation was fueled by renewable energy.[3] Georgia is one of the 14 remaining states within our country with no renewable portfolio standard or goal.[4] Contradictory to these facts, Georgia has significant potential to produce clean energy, specifically through hydroelectric and solar power.

The potential for hydroelectric power in Georgia is overlooked partially because this type of renewable energy largely stems from the lakes and reservoirs located in unpopulated river valleys in the north.[5] Hydroelectric power is a form of renewable energy that uses the motion of water to generate electricity, so the principal requirement for production is a body of water.[6] This method of renewable energy has been recognized to be highly efficient in producing electricity, with the capacity to convert over 90% of energy into electricity. On the other hand, the typical fossil fuel plant has operation levels reaching only a mere 60% efficiency.[7] Though data in 2020 records that Georgia has already been the 13th-largest producer of hydroelectric power in our nation, there are still many untapped bodies of water that can lead to even greater production of hydroelectric power.[8] Georgia currently has 31 hydroelectric power plants within the state, with thousands of dams and various river basins to draw electricity from in the future. If used correctly, these bodies of water will increase electricity production without the externality of carbon dioxide.

Solar power is another form of renewable energy that Georgia has not taken advantage of, with it only producing 3% of Georgia’s total electricity generation in the year 2020.[9] However, based on the sun index level, Georgia was ranked 10th for ultimate solar power potential, indicating the state can produce a greater amount of electricity from solar power.[10] Additionally, another measure of solar energy potential is known as “solar insolation”, which is essentially the amount of solar radiation over a state. Not only does Georgia receive enough sunshine to increase its production of solar energy, but it also has the opportunity to follow the actions of northern states by converting areas of contaminated lands into solar energy sites. According to research by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, dozens of contaminated sites throughout Georgia have been determined to be large enough for small utility-scale solar systems. Creating just one of these sites, like the City of Tifton Landfill, for example, can reduce carbon emissions by 153,000 tons.[11]

Georgia legislators must recognize the urgency in the fight against rising carbon dioxide levels, for the future could be bleak if they do not take action soon. Climate change will ultimately affect Georgia’s agricultural and forestry sectors, coastal towns, air quality, and eventually the health of all Georgians. To preserve the Georgia that is known today, the potential for renewable energy in the state must be utilized.