Why is it so hard to get a company like Georgia Power or The Southern Company to get on with solar and wind power for clean energy, for national energy independence, and, most importantly to such corporations, for their own profit? Why instead do they keep investing in coal and natural gas and wasting our tax and customer dollars on nuclear financial boondoggles? Why did Cobb EMC back new coal plants until they had their nose rubbed in national shame about corruption and do nothing about solar until their shareholders revolted and changed a majority of their board? We don’t even need to wait for that forensic audit the new Cobb EMC board wants to get the big picture. Such companies consider what they’re used to to be low risk, and anything new to be risky. Why are they so stodgy, and how do we change that?
These companies have many decades of experience with coal and natural gas, so they consider them less financially risky. (Details like neighbors dying disproportionately from cancer cost a little bit to buy up property, but that’s nothing compared to readily predictable profits.) Even nuclear such companies consider not risky to them, since they’ve got the federal government and their own customers guaranteeing all the financial risk through Construction Work in Progress charges on their bills for power they’re not even receiving from the new nukes and agreement from Georgia PSC that cost overruns like those caused by concrete sinking into the dirt can be passed on to the customers.
Neal Stephenson wrote for World Policy Journal September 2011, Innovation Starvation,
The illusion of eliminating uncertainty from corporate decision-making is not merely a question of management style or personal preference. In the legal environment that has developed around publicly traded corporations, managers are strongly discouraged from shouldering any risks that they know about—or, in the opinion of some future jury, should have known about—even if they have a hunch that the gamble might pay off in the long run. There is no such thing as “long run” in industries driven by the next quarterly report. The possibility of some innovation making money is just that—a mere possibility that will not have time to materialize before the subpoenas from minority shareholder lawsuits begin to roll in.
But if the old ways turn out to be suddenly risky, change can come. Funny how Cobb EMC changed its tune after subpeonas started raining down for its former CEO Dwight Brown. Sure, he got off on a technicality, but it turns out Cobb EMC shareholders didn’t like that “31-count racketeering and theft indictment” and they didn’t like the coal plants Brown and the Cobb EMC board had insisted on investing in, so they ran their own candidates and took over the board. Funny how Cobb EMC’s computation of the risks suddenly changed (in one year) to where private capital is funding a 100 acre 10 MW solar farm with customer Cobb EMC and Cobb EMC’s new executive director, Chip Nelson, says:
“I always thought solar power was something further out for Georgia. We just weren’t in the right time. The way things have been moving in the utility industry, particularly the last two or three years, I find that we’re just ripe for it.”
Notice he didn’t say anything about any change in the technology of solar power. What changed was Cobb EMC’s risk calculations. The old corrupt coal way doesn’t pay off anymore. It suddenly became time to admit solar is cheaper, faster, and cleaner (financially, ethically, and environmentally) than coal.
The same lawyer who sprung Cobb EMC’s Dwight Brown, former Gov. Roy Barnes, is now suing Georgia Power about CWIP. It’s time for Georgia Power and its parent The Southern Company to look at the legal and financial risks their traditional power sources. It’s time to look at wind farms off the Georgia coast. It’s time to look at legalizing a commodity market in solar power where people like me and you can install solar panels on our own private property and sell the power to Atlanta and points north, with Colquitt EMC or Georgia Power taking a percentage for transport and getting advertising rights. It’s time to start accepting private investment in utility-scale solar plants. If Austin Energy can do it (way back in 2003); if Cobb EMC can do it (they’re doing it right now), Georgia Power and The Southern Company can do it. They can admit the risks have changed: coal and natural gas and nuclear are too risky to pursue, while solar and wind are much less risky to our health, to national energy independence, and to these companies’ bottom lines.
Or Georgia Power and The Southern Company can wait until they, like Cobb EMC, have a shareholder revolt. They’re bigger and stodgier, so that may take longer. While Georgia falls farther behind the rest of the states and the world in the fastest growing industry in the world: solar power.
Maybe we should all remind Georgia Power and our EMCs that Georgia is one of the three states that could benefit most from
“solar deployment through generating and exporting energy to other states”.
That means Georgia Power and Georgia EMCs could make money by selling solar power to other states. Low risk for quick and long-term profit!