We’ve grown accustomed to the incredible benefits and comforts America’s energy infrastructure has provided us. Think about the incredible pace of change in technology alone: barely a decade ago, we weren’t carrying smartphones and tablets to stream video or play games. And, for some of us, our children were outside playing instead of glued to their phones or looking for a charger to plug them in.
While that’s something that may be normal now, it represents a big change in the electric infrastructure. While we may take it for granted, Georgia’s consumers and regulators across the country have been asking for more out of the infrastructure. We’ve asked for more device interconnectivity, more energy management, more electric vehicle charging, more robust protection from emerging cyber-threats.
Not only that, we’ve asked for a greater ability to provide renewable energy, and we all want our power to be more resilient and back online quicker after an outage. In short, we’re using a lot more energy, and we’ll continue to ask for even more for the foreseeable future.
While all this is happening, we’ve been asking our 20th Century grid to do a 21st Century job. This is like asking a Ford Model T to move as fast as a 2019 Chevy Corvette, or to download an entire movie on Netscape or AOL in minutes – those of us over the age of 30 remember a time when that took days because the infrastructure was, well, old.
Our grid has served us well, but we have to start making investments now to have the grid we want in the future. If we don’t, it will mean longer response times, costlier outages, and poorer service; and that adds up for a family and businesses’ bottom line. A 2017 analysis by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our nation’s energy infrastructure as D+. Nationwide, we may need to invest over $2 trillion alone by 2030 just to maintain currently grid reliability. That’s why 40 states and the District of Columbia examined grid modernization efforts in 2018.
Compounding these challenges is disaster and storm recovery efforts to repair and harden the grid. Georgia Power alone has responded to over 50 severe weather events and three very destructive hurricanes causing billions in damage over the past six years, which impacted millions of residents and families across the state.
To make sure we have the modern, capable grid we want and ensure adequate storm restoration efforts, Georgia’s utility regulators have a chance to examine whether our current calculations to set base charges are adequate to keep up with the increasing demands.
Base charges are part of how we all pay for our share of the grid that serves us. They are the costs utilities have to pay to deliver electricity to our homes, offices or workplaces, which also includes the cost for the wires, poles, power plants, personnel, grid maintenance and additional services that customers demand.
Increasingly, Georgia’s old formula just can’t keep pace with what we are asking from it. That means without additional investments, we are going to see less service and more patchwork, just-in-time repairs – which are more expensive.
Unfortunately, the process before the Public Service Commission (PSC) has been distorted by activist groups who have made expensive demands under the guise of lowering electricity bills. They’ve asked for more services, redundant environmental controls, more vehicle charging, and a more services but don’t want to make the investment in the grid to let us get there.
Following the logic of these fringe activist groups would lead to a less reliable grid, and because their demands have a price, much higher energy costs in the future.
Federal data confirms that Georgia’s residential electric rates are well below the national average and rates for Georgia Power were 16 percent below the national average last year. This trend has been in place for decades. It’s time to put away the rhetoric and honestly examine where we want Georgia’s infrastructure to be in the future.
Our regulators can make wise choices today will help ensure families, farmers, small businesses, and consumers thrive in the future.
Brydon Ross is the vice president of state affairs for the Consumer Energy Alliance