This past week, I visited Georgia to attend the Mayors’ Summit put on by the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG). MEAG is a joint action agency serving 49 Georgia cities and towns across the state, from the suburbs of Atlanta to rural communities. MEAG owns substantial shares in a number of electric generation facilities, and is a co-owner (along with Georgia Power and the Georgia rural electric co-ops) of the high voltage transmission system that serves the state.
I flew into Atlanta on a Friday afternoon, just in time to experience some of the famous Atlanta area traffic. Atlanta can certainly give the DC area a run for its money when it comes to congestion on the interstate highways serving the metro area. But as I drove further east, away from Atlanta and towards Greensboro, the landscape turned to a lovely autumn one, with rolling hills and fall foliage. What a great spot for a meeting!
Bob Johnston, MEAG’s CEO, updated the mayors on the status of construction of Vogtle III and IV, the twin nuclear plants that MEAG is partnering with Georgia Power (a unit of Southern Company) and the Georgia co-ops to construct. It is the largest construction site in North America, with 4,000 workers on the site. Work is coming along handily, with the cooling towers rising and the concrete pad for the reactor buildings poured. Hearing this update reminded me again of just how substantial an undertaking it is to build the first new nuclear plants in the U.S. in the 21st century. If we are truly serious about reducing the CO2 associated with our power supplies, new nuclear generation has to be part of that solution. States and utilities taking the lead on building nuclear should be properly credited for their efforts in EPA’s final 111(d) rule.
We also heard presentations on how new technologies might change our industry in the future, a post-mortem of Georgia’s midterm elections, and a presentation by an industrial development consultant on what it takes to attract new industries to a community. He detailed the substantial number of new industries that have located in the Southeast in recent years, including many foreign ones such as Airbus and Volkswagen. Interestingly, he noted that among the prime attractions for such companies is a skilled, educated workforce — and they look to the state of the K-12 educational infrastructure in a community to gauge this factor. So if you want to attract new industry to your community, make sure your third graders are reading on grade-level!
The day closed with a great dinner, complete with a live band and TV screens showing the Georgia-Auburn football game (Georgia is SEC country, after all!).
Public power can never match the financial clout and PAC money of other segments of our industry. Our strength is our grassroots. Our “policymakers”—mayors, council members and other elected and appointed officials—are absolutely key to our efforts to ensure that federal (and state) decision makers support public power systems with policies that allow us to provide affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible electric service. So kudos to MEAG for taking the time each year to have an in-depth conference with its mayors, to make sure they are well informed about what MEAG is doing, and what is on the horizon for our industry. I very much enjoyed my time with them.