Georgia’s Common Sense Environmental Path

By Phil Kent

Expensive and half-baked “green” governmental mandates and over-regulation at the national level will cripple our economy. But leave that debate for another day. Let’s peer into the crystal ball to see what Georgia’s leading companies are doing to both enhance the environment and our quality of life while growing business and cutting costs. Let’s also gauge what challenges face the new governor and legislators in the environmental/conservation arena.
Water a Major Priority

Perhaps the biggest question in political and business circles revolve around ensuring adequate water supplies for Atlanta and the rest of the state. When it was ruled illegal to withdraw water from Lake Lanier because the federally-managed reservoir was not originally authorized as a water supply, a federal judge gave Georgia, Alabama and Florida three years to forge an agreement for sharing the flow from the Chattahooche River system. If the states fail to meet that July 2012 deadline, withdrawals from the lake would be rolled back to early 1970s levels. That means metro Atlanta could lose access to a whopping 250 million gallons of drinking water a day.

A task force of business, political and environmental leaders is being widely praised for providing common sense solutions— if only they can be implemented. Conservation, of course, is the quickest and cheapest strategy. One recommendation– involving where to build and fund more reservoirs in a tight budget climate– will be a special challenge facing the governor and the General Assembly. Another recommendation is the promotion of rainwater harvesting, or catchment. Atlanta, for example, could amend its building and plumbing codes to allow for the use of rainwater as a potable water source in residential and commercial buildings.

Private industry is also addressing the water problem, and Atlanta-based Coca-Cola’s efforts deserve recognition. Its work includes a partnership for watershed restoration of the Flint River, a program that has saved 10 billion gallons of water since 2003, with a calculated savings of 154 million liters per year. With the Etowah River Watershed Conservation Partnership, Coco-Cola has influenced sustainable development, reduced sediment delivery to the Etowah by 32.6 metric tons per year, reduced sediment load by 100 metric tons per year and removed a run-of-the river dam.

The co-chairman of the state’s contingency Water Task Force is Coca Cola Enterprises CEO John Brock, so his insights on the development of a water plan for Atlanta are especially valued.

Coca Cola is also a leader in recycling efforts. Consider just one example: During the 2009 season, almost 500,000 beverage containers were recycled in more than 300 Coke bins placed around the ball park. Its nationwide program is exemplary, including its third-party waste tracking system. This allows Coca Cola to track and collect date on where recycling is or isn’t taking place. The company then plans to recruit other industries to be part of a recycling initiative and to assist in proper recycling strategies.

Amnisos— A Cutting-Edge Water Operation

A new Norcross-based company addressing Georgia’s water needs sports an interesting name— Amnisos, the name of a mythical Greek river god. Cities and counties are having a tough time with tight budgets, CEO Ross Everett notes. “But if you are a water utility and have a capital project and can’t get the money to launch it,” he says, “that’s where Amnisos can come in. When we start everything is free of charge. Our company only charges a utility once we begin delivering your water. The only thing cities and counties will ever pay for is water that we’re already giving you.”

“We are very green and want to get into biowaste-to-energy projects,” Everett says, “where we take the sludge from a wastewater plant and convert a significant percentage to methane gas and then generate electricity. We also want to tackle reuse projects where you take the effluent from a wastewater plant and turn it into clean water. That new water is cleaner than Lake Lanier!”

Amnisos has branched out to three other states, with a big $50 million plant in Florida in the works. Everett also makes an interesting offer: “If cities or counties have a wastewater or water treatment plant in disrepair, Amnisos will buy it and fix it – and then turn around and process the water for a price per thousand gallons.” Money from the sale, he emphasizes, is a direct cash injection into a local treasury. That ought to pique the interest of city councils and county commissions.

Major Businesses Address Environment

Georgia is growing in population, so there’s a need for new energy sources coupled with energy efficiency. That’s why Atlanta-based Southern Company — parent company of the Georgia Power Company — is adding new options to ensure electricity reliability in an environmentally-friendly way. Nuclear development director Todd Terrell says “relying solely on fossil fuels – or any one source of electricity for that matter— won’t cut it today. So renewable energy is going to be one of the many fuels our utility will use for electricity in future years.”

“Clean, safe nuclear power can meet the demand for future electrical needs – with the added benefit of no carbon dioxide or any air emissions. So Georgia Power is adding two nuclear units at Plant Vogtle near Augusta, scheduled to be operational by 2016. Polls indicate 80 percent of Georgians support this project,” Terrell notes.

Georgia Power is also going commercial with biomass. Plant Mitchell’s Unit 3 is converting from being coal-fueled to biomass-fueled and will be one of the largest in the nation. Located near Albany, it will draw on surplus wood fuel from suppliers within a 100-mile radius of the plant.

What about solar power? While widespread use is not feasible in many parts of the old Confederacy, the Southern Company is forging ahead by forming a partnership with Turner Renewable Energy to pursue development of renewable energy projects throughout the country.

Don’t forget, too, that there is a need for low-cost natural gas, which gives off just half of the carbon dioxide that coal does. This is a great and abundant resource and we need to bring more to Georgia (especially since there is a liquid natural gas terminal off the coast of Savannah, one of only four in the nation). The start of environmentally sensitive natural gas exploration and drilling off Georgia’s coast would also be a great economic and jobs booster.

Landfills Where the Action Is

Using methane gas created by the decay of landfill waste is becoming an increasingly popular source of renewable energy to generate electricity, especially since there are no carbon dioxide emissions. Walter Brown, chairman of the Georgia Solar Energy Association, notes that “locating large photovoltaic (solar energy) projects can be an issue when considering projects needing many acres of land to produce utility-scale amounts of clean energy.”

Republic Services Inc., for example, found a brilliant win-win solution at its Hickory Ridge landfill. “Using Carlisle Energy’s solar power landfill closure system, Republic will be able to close their landfill while generating clean renewable energy from the landfill cap,” Brown says. Republic’s site, which would not be used for any other purpose for decades, will now become a renewable energy location.

Brown notes that the cutting-edge cover for the landfill is partially funded through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, and the operation will produce annually over 1,300 megawatt hours of clean energy annually for up to 30 years. When completed, he says, “this enormous solar project will be visible from the air to passengers arriving at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and will become well known to Georgians looking for clean energy solutions for our future prosperity.”

By the way, Republic’s Oak Grove landfill near Winder recently won a national award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for reducing methane emissions while generating renewable energy.

Ports Authority and Hospital Success

The state’s ports are a huge economic asset, and the Georgia Port Authority is compiling an impressive environmental record resulting in efficiencies and monetary savings. One example is the use of a fuel additive for all on-terminal diesel consumption. A recent study indicates a five percent decrease in fuel consumption and an average 71 percent reduction in particulate matter because of this new policy by the Authority.

The four newest ship-to-shore cranes brought online by the Authority eliminated the use of more than 400,000 gallons of diesel annually. In fact, all of the Garden City terminal’s cranes run on electricity and 12 of those cranes generate approximately one-third of energy used through gravity and kinetic energy.

The captains of the medical industry are also getting involved with innovations. A recent survey of hospitals by Atlanta-based Standpoint Inc. found that many are making environmental policies a top priority. Four out of five respondents believe they reduce waste and cut costs.

Wellstar Health System Inc., for example, is planning to build the greenest hospital in Georgia. The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that the health system is designing its new WellStar Paulding Hospital with an extensive amount of environmentally-friendly features— from an energy-efficient design incorporating local building materials to a special system that harnesses and reuses heat generated from the data center.

Radicalism No Answer

Common sense environmental and conservation policies in the Peach State are a refreshing contrast to radical and expensive policies urged by former Vice President Al Gore and some in Congress.

In a 2009 speech, Gore hysterically proclaimed: “If you are a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration.” He also said “clean coal does not exist.”

Fortunately, President Barack Obama and prominent politicians in both major parties don’t go that far. After all, there is no realistic way to make up for all coal-fueled plants with wind and solar farms.

A composite solution, with a portfolio of energy sources that balance environmental concerns with affordability, reliability and sustainability, is the proper course for our elected public officials and the captains of capitalism. Indeed, Georgia is leading the way in this regard.
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Phil Kent heads his own communications company, is a veteran journalist, a former press secretary to a U.S. senator, one-time president of a constitutional public interest law firm, author and a pundit of WAGA-TV’s The Georgia Gang..