Scrutiny for Vogtle on cost, climate

With the Vogtle nuclear expansion nearing the finish line, ratepayers are turning their thoughts to how its $35 billion price tag will increase their monthly bills, writes the Georgia Recorder’s Stanley Dunlap.

Customers would have been better off with more solar and battery storage than with two exorbitantly expensive nuclear reactors, Mark Woodall of the Sierra Club of Georgia said.

Supporters tout Vogtle as carbon-free kilowatts. But at a Congressional briefing sponsored by the Samuel Lawrence Foundation on June 2, speakers laid out the case against nuclear as a climate solution, with Vogtle mentioned repeatedly. (Watch the briefing here.)

Among its biggest drawbacks is its carbon footprint, said Stanford University’s Mark Z. Jacobson.

“If you actually account for all the relevant emission sources associated with not only the opportunity costs, but also the building and running of the reactor, it’s nine to 37 times the CO2 equivalent emissions and pollution per kilowatt hour of electricity generated by wind,” he said.

Vogtle 3 containment Credit: Georgia Power

Speed rules and right whales

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter doesn’t sit on the House Natural Resources Committee but on June 6 he waived on to the group for a hearing on the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s speed restriction rule regarding right whales. Seasonal speed limits along the Georgia coast and elsewhere currently apply to vessels 65 feet or longer, but NOAA is proposing to expand the rule to include vessels 35 feet or larger.

Carter, who met with representatives from the American Pilots Association before the hearing, opposes the rule change.

“We love the right whale, we want to protect it,” Carter told the committee. “We don’t want to see it become extinct. But we’ve only had six lethal strikes off the state of Georgia, off the coast of Georgia, I should say, since 1999.”

(Watch the hearing here. Carter appears at about the 1:56 mark.)

Fewer than 350 north Atlantic right whales remain. The highly endangered whales, a Georgia state symbol, give birth in the waters off Georgia and north Florida.

“I’m very concerned about our harbor pilots and their safety and, and the port’s overall operation,” Carter said, also noting that recreational and commercial fishing could be harmed by the rule. “You stop the ports, and we have major economic problems in my area, not just for the Savannah area, not just for the coast, but the whole Southeast United States.”

In an email with The Current, Catherine Ridley of One Hundred Miles pushed back against Carter’s stance.

“Since the speed rule was implemented in 2008, the number of right whales killed by large vessels over 65 feet in the U.S. declined, while the number of mortalities from those 65 feet or less did not,” she wrote. “We already know that this rule works, but too many whales are still being struck and killed by these smaller vessels.”

Smaller vessels are typically what Coastal Georgians prefer. Excluding personal watercraft, 20,085 vessels were registered in Georgia’s coastal counties as of February. Of those, only about 1.4 percent, or 272 boats, were 35 feet or longer.

A 21-year-old right whale and her calf seen off Cumberland Island Feb. 10, 2022. Credit: Credit: Florida FWC/taken under NOAA 0556-01

Peach pits

If complaints about this year’s pitiful peach harvest in Georgia sound familiar, William Thomas Okie, a history professor at Kennesaw State University, says there’s a reason for that.

“As ominous as this may sound, the unpredictability of Georgia’s peach harvest has been predictable since the industry’s earliest days,” Okie writes in The Conversation. “So has public hand-wringing about it.”

Okie, whose father was a USDA peach breeder, traces the history of the Georgia peach from its introduction by the Spaniards in St. Augustine in the 1500s to the so-called Peach State’s present day ranking of a distant third in production behind (gasp) California and (double gasp) South Carolina.

Climate change, which is reducing the frequency of cold days peaches need to set fruit, is just the latest trial for Georgia’s peach growers. But Georgia’s peaches have had powerful allies, too, including former governor and U.S. Senator Richard B. Russell. Okie lays out how horticulture, politics and manual labor played a part in the making the peach a Georgia icon.

Peaches on a tree
Peaches on a tree Credit: Jason Leung on Unsplash

Also noted

• Gary Ingram, the superintendent of the Cumberland Island National Seashore since 2014, is leaving the island but not the park system. He’ll be Superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park beginning after July 30, that park reported in an email to its staff recently. Ingram and his assistant did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

• The wildlife drive and the visitor center at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge will reopen June 20. The Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive, which has been closed with a few exceptions for almost four years, will now be open from sunrise to sunset, 7 days a week. Visitor center hours will be 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Monday-Friday excluding federal holidays. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service warns however, to check the status of the under construction Houlihan Bridge when planning a visit, as there may be detours.

The wildlife drive is a sure bet for gator viewing. Credit: USFWS

• Savannah is installing “smart” meters for its water customers starting this month. The meters collect real-time water usage information and transmit that data to the city via a cellular signal. Savannah is far from first in adopting this technology on the Georgia Coast. Glynn County has had smart meters since 2004, so long in fact that they’re now replacing the first batch. Other utilities are already on the smart meter bandwagon, too. Georgia Power installed smart electric meters statewide from 2007-2014. By 2021, about 69% of electric meters installations in the U.S. were smart meters, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports.

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Mary Landers covers Coastal Georgia’s environment for The Current, a topic she covered for nearly 24 years at the Savannah Morning News, where she began and ended her time there writing about health,...