– August 2, 2023 –

As we plunge into August, take heart in the fact that July is typically Coastal Georgia’s hottest month. But don’t get too cocky. August isn’t usually that much cooler, and just around the corner lurks the heart of the Atlantic hurricane season, with the statistical peak of storms on September 10.

Today we’ll take at look at how Coastal Georgia fared in July’s worldwide heatwaves, examine how much solar could’ve been built with the money spent on Georgia’s new nuclear reactors, and catch up on the latest about U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter’s property down the road from the defunct Spaceport Camden. Stay cool out there.

July’s heat was the new abnormal

Last month brought punishing heatwaves around the world during what climate scientists say was the hottest month on record. Ocean water felt the heat, too, with hot-tub-like temperatures recorded off Florida’s coast. Here in Coastal Georgia it was a warmer July than the 30-year average for the area, which in turn is warmer than the decades prior to that, said Pam Knox, director of the UGA Weather Network.

Brunswick is having its warmest year on record and Savannah has posted its sixth warmest year to date, Knox said.

“Generally, the nighttime temperatures have been much more above average than the daytime highs,” she said. “And that’s because there’s a lot more humidity in the air, and that keeps the temperatures from dropping at night.”

While Savannah hasn’t yet seen a triple-digit day yet in 2023, July made for a sweaty Hostess City with temperatures 1.5 degrees hotter than the long term average, both for the daily high and nighttime low temperatures, according to the National Weather Service.

Don’t call all this the new normal, says Susan Hassol, director of the nonprofit Climate Communication.

“There’s nothing normal about it, and we shouldn’t normalize it,” she said while speaking last week to the Local Media Association Covering Climate Collaborative. “I call it the new abnormal, because when you call it the new normal, you’re making it sound like we’ve come to a new steady state. It’s much worse than that; it’s going to keep getting worse until we stop burning fossil fuels.”

Pam Knox checks the data logger at the weather station on the Durham Horticulture Farm in Watkinsville. Credit: UGA

EPD director to be named in ‘special’ meeting

The Georgia Board of Natural Resources meets at 9 a.m. today in a “special conference call meeting” to appoint the new director of the regulatory branch, the Environmental Protection Division. The previous director, Richard Dunn, was appointed as director of the Office of Planning and Budget last month. By law, the 19-member board appoints and removes the EPD director with the approval of the governor.

The meeting was announced Tuesday with no provisions for the public to join the call except by attending the meeting in person at DNR headquarters in Atlanta. The new director will oversee the completion of the permitting process for the controversial Twin Pines mining project near the Okefenokee Swamp.

Former Ga. EPD Director Richard Dunn

How much solar could replace Vogtle’s ouput?

The first of two new reactors at Plant Vogtle finally went into operation Monday, squeaking past the finish line with just hours to spare on its latest deadline of July. Vogtle 3 arrived seven years late and at more than double its initial budget. Georgia Power, with a 45% share in the expansion, called the day “historic.” But as Dave Williams of Capitol Beat reports, some Vogtle critics remain focused on that bloated bill.

“For customers who have been paying for this project for well over a decade, we hope that Georgia Power and the (Public Service) commission will prioritize proven cost-effective solutions like solar and energy efficiency programs that will help Georgians control energy costs and lower their monthly bills,”  said Bob Sherrier, staff attorney for the Atlanta-based Southern Environmental Law Center.

A reader wrote us last week noting his back-of-the-envelope calculation that “over 1.5 million Georgia household could have received a subsidy of $20,000 to convert to solar power if the $31 billion cost of the nuclear power plant had been directed in that manner.” (Estimates for Vogtle’s total cost are actually up to $33 billion, according to recent testimony at the Georgia Public Service Commission.)

It turns out PV Magazine did a similar calculation in 2021, taking into account factors including solar and battery costs, plus the lower capacity factor for solar, which isn’t producing 24/7 like nuclear. The bottom line: Replacing the Vogtle expansion with solar power plus batteries would cost about $16.8 billion. The solar panels would cover about 27,000 acres, the author, a professional solar developer, estimated. That’s the equivalent of nine Bryan County Hyundai metaplants.

Plant Vogtle Unit 3 Credit: Georgia Power

Buddy Carter appeals his property assessment

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter again is appealing the assessment of his 471-acre property in Camden County, Chief Appraiser Brian Bishop confirmed Tuesday. The county valued the property this year at $4,079,802 based on comparable sales, Bishop said. That’s slightly less than what Carter’s asking for the land. The property has been listed for sale since April for $4.25 million with Jesup-based Carter Group, a real estate broker not related to the lawmaker.

Carter, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, bought the land for $2.05 million in 2018. The Republican lawmaker from Pooler then spearheaded a bipartisan letter from the state’s Congressional delegation urging the Federal Aviation Administration to issue Camden a license for a spaceport the county was trying to develop about 10 miles up the road from his land.  Camden voters later rejected the controversial spaceport in a 2022 referendum.

The lawmaker did not immediately respond to The Current’s request for comment about the appeal.

Carter previously challenged the county’s assessed value of the land at $273,800. He engaged in a protracted legal battle that was settled in May 2022 with the county and the congressman agreeing to freeze the assessment at that $273,800 level through last year.

The 2023 assessment would raise Carter’s property tax from about $3,500 last year to almost $51,000. The county received the appeal Friday, the deadline for filing, Bishop said. His office has 180 days to decide to forward the appeal to the Board of Equalization, or make a change to it.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter purchased this land in 2018 for $2.1 million. Now he’s selling it. On Friday he appealed the 2023 property tax assessment that put the value at less than the current list price of $4.25 million. Credit: Camden County

If you have feedback, questions, concerns, or just like what you see, let us know at thecurrentga@gmail.com.

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Mary Landers is a reporter in Coastal Georgia focusing on the environment for The Current. It's a topic she covered for nearly 24 years at the Savannah Morning News, where she began and ended her time...