Last week, state regulators from the Georgia Public Service Commission (GPSC) voted to approve Georgia Power’s plans to expand a fossil fuel power plant and to buy dirty energy from other regional utility companies.

According to an excellent article by Jeff St. John for Canary Media, this plant expansion will allow for an additional 1.4 gigawatts of electricity generation. Georgia Power can buy up to almost another gigawatt through deals called power purchase agreements (PPAs), most of which will come not from solar but from coal—arguably the dirtiest form of energy generation—and fossil gas, known more commonly by its marketing-friendly misnomer, “natural” gas.

This is bad news. I don’t think it’s a total done deal that Georgia Power will go all the way through with generating this much energy from dirty, non-renewable sources, but it certainly doesn’t stop it from doing so, either. Regardless, this is infuriating and frustrating, especially given the compelling and heartfelt testimonies from opponents of the integrated resource plan (IRP) proposal, which included members of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, a non-profit based in my town that helps faith-based organizations take action on climate change.

One of my friends, Dr. Keaton Kramer, was there at the GPSC public hearing on this plan and spoke against it. Some of his words really resonated with me, and I think they will probably resonate with anyone who’s involved in the movement for climate justice:

When was the last time you felt so helpless you cried? I’m asking you, please go home and pray deeply about this. I’m asking you to change your minds.

Keaton is a healthcare provider, and he not only made a moving emotional plea to the GPSC, but he also made the connection between the burning of fossil fuels, public health, and the health of his patients. You can watch his and others’ full comments below:

Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the GPSC voted 4-1 to approve this asinine plan, and Georgia Power will continue pumping carbon and methane into the atmosphere for probably decades to come. I’m hopeful that Georgia’s elected officials won’t be such a national embarrassment one day, but I’m also not holding my breath that it’ll happen anytime soon.

Relying on the virtue of tech companies

As is so often the case with American politics, we now appeal to the branch of government who really calls the shots: corporations. Living in a corporatocracy led by unelected ultra-wealthy jerks sucks, but I guess at least some of them have invested heavily in renewable energy, a particularly savory crumb thrown to us peasants.

Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have spent an objectively massive amount of money on renewable energy to power their energy-sucking data centers (which, I know from working in tech the past six or seven years, is very complex but ultimately beyond the scope of this post). These tech behemoths really have done a lot to drive down the cost of renewable energy in the past decade or so.

Okay, so what?

Well, Georgia Power ostensibly proposed this gas plant expansion and PPA deal to meet growing energy demand from new data centers and factories being built in the Peach State. Ironically, some of these factories have been hyped up for the clean tech they’ll produce, like Hyundai’s EV plant and the Rivian plant that has now been delayed.


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It’s hard to tell at this point how the corporations behind these factories and data centers will respond to this news, but I’m hopeful they will push Georgia Power to do better. I know that major tech companies, at least, have pretty aggressive renewable energy and water use goals for their data centers, so I would assume they won’t be too jazzed to learn that a greater percentage of the electricity powering those data centers will come from fossil gas and coal.

I expect it will have less leverage now that plant construction has been delayed, but I do think Rivian could also push for more renewable energy in the updated IRP. Rivian hasn’t backed out of plans to finish its new factory about 30 minutes east of where I live, so they could still exert some influence here. The State of Georgia and the Joint Development Authority involved with that project bent over backwards to get Rivian to come here, so what’s one more incentive at this point?

It goes without saying that we shouldn’t have to count on corporations doing the right thing to have any hope for a still-livable planet by the end of the century, but here we are. Maybe consumers (otherwise known as “people”) have more power than they know, maybe we don’t. But now would be a good time to try to wield whatever power we do have through some sort of collective action.

It’s capitalism, stupid

This whole debacle comes back to something I’ve increasingly become convinced of in the past few years—we aren’t going to capitalism ourselves out of a problem capitalism created. To take some poetic license with a famous Fred Hampton quote: we’re not going to fight capitalism with green capitalism.

At some point we as a society are going to have to come to terms with the fact that our addiction to stuff will be our downfall. Obviously not all of the new factories being built in Georgia that will require so much energy are for building electric cars, and the data centers certainly don’t have a climate benefit. But as we increasingly start putting more strain on our electrical grid, it’s going to become more and more important to reduce consumption.

Don’t get me wrong—EVs are absolutely a necessary part of the transition away from fossil fuels. But if all we do is swap out every gas-powered car on the road for ones powered by big battery packs, that’s not going to have nearly as big of an impact as if we reduce the total number of cars on the road, period. The same goes for everything else.

(This is not even to mention the baffling amount of new demand for electricity stemming from AI. I’m still learning about the nuances of this, but suffice it to say, the latest gold rush over AI threatens to undo a lot of the progress hyperscale data centers have made à la energy efficiency in the past decade.)

Obviously we’ll need to generate a significant amount of more electricity to accommodate things like electrified transportation, buildings, and heavy industry, but we can’t simply replace one extractive industry-based economy (fossil fuels) with another (rare earth metals). And we will definitely have to transition to an economic model that doesn’t demand infinite growth to keep the house of cards from crashing down.

That original Fred Hampton quote goes like this: “We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism.” In the same way, we can’t fight capitalism with green capitalism; we have to fight it with ecosocialism or post-capitalism or degrowth or whatever you want to call it. We need an economic system centered on wellbeing, for both people and nature—which of course we’re a part of.

We are more powerful than we think

It may seem like I’ve gone way off-topic from Georgia Power’s new IRP and the GPSC vote to approve it, but this topic really lies at the heart of this problem, in Georgia and elsewhere.

I am not absolving corporations and governments around the world for their supply-side economics and the dearth of good choices we’re afforded as a result of the abundance of bad choices it’s created. But I do think we need to be bold and get to work on creating the future we want to see. No one else is going to do it for us.

That means following the example of my friend Keaton and speaking up at public hearings for obscure regulatory bodies like public service commissions. It means, yeah, opting for an EV if you’re able to (and a smaller one, at that), but maybe just opting for a bike instead, whenever possible. It means not buying shit you don’t need. It means repairing things instead of throwing them away. It means taking good care of things so they are less likely to break in the first place. It means community-building.

Let’s not let a tiny body of largely unknown public officials decide our futures for us.

By the way, the inimitable Amy Westervelt, my climate journalist hero, wrote a much more evidence-based piece on the topic of electrification and consumption last year for The Intercept. You can read it here: "The 'Electrify Everything' Movement's Consumption Problem"