US Senator Johnny Isakson discusses Georgia’s resources for a clean energy future and comments on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
What are your thoughts on Georgia’s role in the national energy scene?
Johnny Isakson: Well, Georgia is uniquely positioned to be a major player in the national energy scene for a couple of reasons. One is agriculture in our state. We are number one in the country in the four Ps: pine trees, poultry, pecans, and peanuts. Today in Georgia, we make biodiesel from peanut oil. We make biodiesel from chicken fat. And we have the potential for cellulosic ethanol from our wood products, lob-lolly pines. And we’re number one in the country in all of those resources. We have a great opportunity for biofuels and biodiversity of our fuels. That’s number one.
Number two, a lot of people don’t realize it, but Georgia is a TVA state. The ten border counties with Tennessee that we have are a part of the TVA. So we have a national role there because that’s a very national organization. Then we have the southern company which has gotten the first new licenses since Three-Mile Island for nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. And they got it because President Obama issued the loan guarantees which are an essential part of the nuclear program. So Georgia is at the forefront of nuclear, at the forefront of biofuels, and it’s at the forefront of TVA and consolidating energy sources like that. So I think our state has a big role in energy in the future.
What does the state need to do in order to maximize Georgia’s energy use?
Johnny Isakson: Governor’s office a few years ago started the EIC center, the Energy Innovation Center which is under the Georgia Environmental Sublease Department. And it started out with the goal of doing fifteen percent of our transportation energy needs from biofuels at which Georgia is, some of the ones I just mentioned in terms of cellulosic-based ethanol, poultry-based biodiesel, biodiesel from other resources. We have a lot of biomass in Georgia, and our goal is to get fifteen percent of our energy consumption for transportation from biofuels and renewable energy by 2020. That’s number one. And that program is in place and is working. We just attracted our second poultry fat-based biodiesel plant which is going to be opening soon in Warrington, Georgia. The first one was in Rome, Georgia. Georgia Power is doing some conversion of some coal plants to wood-based plants which again is another biofuel. And the Plant Vogtle being added to in Burt County, Georgia down near Waynesboro just are all three great examples of the setting the goal for the state’s consumption.
Are there other projects that need to come online to meet those requirements?
Johnny Isakson: Well, there are. In fact, aside what the government’s trying to set its goal of reducing by fifteen percent by using renewable energy, we’ve also tried to set goals for our state. And we have energy goals for the state of Georgia for the private sector to try and match us. Georgia wants to produce fifteen percent of its energy use from renewable energy by 2020. That’s all use like electricity and many other things like that. Southern Company’s issued 330,000 compact florescent bulbs to customers all over Georgia to promote energy efficiency. State government is doing the same types of things in terms of energy efficiency. And our EMC’s, our Electric Membership Corporations, our MEAG Companies. They’ve done tremendous work. In fact, in some ways, they were the leaders as far back as the early eighties. They started the load management program in Georgia where people would voluntarily put load management devices on their air conditioning compressors to shave off the peak demand in hot days like today happens to be in Atlanta, Georgia, to have less energy consumption. So I think Georgia’s been a leader as a state. And then I think the state has tried to set goals for energy efficiency and energy reduction in the private sector.
Are there certain technologies that we should be betting on?
Johnny Isakson: I think we need to take advantage of everything. The oil spill in the Gulf, all those types of things, proves the vulnerability of any one source in terms of its reliability or its availability. I think given the importance geopolitically of ending our dependence on so much imported oil from the Middle East and from Venezuela. Then it’s in our geopolitical interest and it’s in our environmental interest to develop alternative energy sources that are renewable. So I think it’s good politics, but I think it’s better business.
Do you have any comments on the expansion of new energy-related technologies, such as GE’s Smart Grid?
Johnny Isakson: Well, the Smart Grid Center, like so many things that are happening in our state, are an example of what’s happened by the goal-setting of the state itself to reduce its dependence on fossil-based fuels and expand the use of renewable energy and renewable fuels and all sources of energy. So we now have great businesses doing it. We now have the state doing it. We now have families putting in the compact florescent light bulbs and the light bulbs in their house. We have load management systems on air conditioning. It’s a comprehensive effort through conservation and the use of alternative energy to meet our energy needs but lessen our dependence on any one source.
Do you agree with those that say that Georgia’s building codes need to be stronger?
Johnny Isakson: Well, building codes are a part, green buildings. I was in the real estate and development business and so I understand that. And there are lots of things that you can do with insulation. I’ve just added twelve inches of insulation to my attic in the house that I’ve lived in thirty-one years. A, because it need it, but, B, because I recognize the savings that I would get. There are lots of tax credits out there for replacement of single-pane windows to thermal-pane windows that take place. And I did all new windows in my house three or four years ago for the same type of reasons.
I think the public mindset is bought into the idea that efficiency and using renewable energy is good for business, but it’s good for America. And it’s particularly good for Georgia. And I would venture to say Georgia probably is one of the real leaders in the entire country in moving towards more energy efficiency and more independence from single sources of energy.
Are there other things that we can do during this recession to make sure that energy jobs continue to grow?
Johnny Isakson: Well, I was in sales all my life and when you’re in politics, you’re still in sales. You’ve got to be out there selling, but you’ve got to have something to sell. I think what I’ve tried to strive in terms of diversity of sources of renewable energy and biomass that we have in Georgia having a proactive company like Southern Company in our state, looking for ways in which to reduce energy demand and have more energy efficiency. The Institute of Nuclear Power is right here in Georgia today. We have a tremendous investment that’s come to Georgia from the outside, and we have a tremendous growth inside our state. And I think it’s because there’s a total commitment to, as I said, develop more renewable forces of energy and make sure we have all the efficiency we can from energy savings. I think the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, which is not far from here, they’ve had small business programs on energy efficiency. And because things are tough right now, everybody’s looking for shaving savings wherever they can, and energy costs is one way you can do that. And doing it through efficiency becomes a good habit that lasts forever.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the BP oil spill in the Gulf?
Johnny Isakson: Well, the oil spill in the Gulf is a tragedy. We have got to keep all hands on deck, working towards a solution. The repercussions environmentally, ecologically, and economically in the Gulf states, but in particular now in Louisiana, is of epic proportions. It’s very unfortunate. I do think, however, that a rush to stop drilling offshore because of one incident, the only other incident that’s taken place was in Mexico over thirty years ago. So it’s not a frequent occurrence. The rush to shutdown offshore drilling would be a huge mistake. What we need to do is a rush to see why the seven redundant fail-safe systems didn’t work and make sure we get the regulations requiring good fail-safe systems in the future. If the Gulf Stream currents eventually do come around Key West and up the East Coast of Florida, Georgia has a one hundred mile plus front on the Atlantic Ocean. So we’ve asked the appropriate agencies, Homeland Security and the Coast Guard and the others, to make the plans now for what happens if some of that residual oil actually makes the turn and starts working its way up the Atlantic. I’m working very hard to see that doesn’t happen to us.
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