Southern Company recently sponsored a New Republic article titled “Energizing through Innovation.” In the article, Kim Greene, chief operating officer and executive vice president at Southern Company, discusses how Southern Company believes electricity is something people cannot live without, and how it is their obligation to provide that product to them “safely, reliably and affordably.” Greene states “One of the hallmarks of Southern Company is that we have always looked ahead to plan for what our supply mix and what our business may look like 10, 20, 30 years from now.”
For example, about 20 years ago, Southern Company began collaborating with the U.S. Department of Energy and KBR (a construction and engineering firm) to develop the clean coal technology subsidiary Mississippi Power is deploying at the Kemper County energy facility. “We were thinking 20 years ago about ensuring we can maintain the full portfolio of energy resources,” Greene says. “We make significant investments in power plants that can serve customers for up to 60 years, so we need to be thinking about the future today.”
Southern Company had an appetite for innovation; its subsidiaries helped electrify the rural South throughout the early 20th century, an impressive logistical feat.
In 1969, the company proved it was game for the challenge of increasing fuel efficiency while decreasing environmental impact by establishing a research department. A year later, when Congress passed the Clean Air Act and established the Environmental Protection Agency, Southern Company was poised to become an industry leader.
In 1974, it opened a pilot plant in Wilsonville, Alabama, to research clean coal technology. The project was so successful, the U.S. Energy Research and Development Association awarded to continue to study clean coal (about $43 million in today’s money).
According to Greene, proactive strategies remain an important part of Southern Company’s mission today. “We meet the challenges of the times through our innovative solutions and continue to provide clean, safe, reliable, affordable power to our customers,” Greene explains. “When Southern Company’s research and development programs were established in the 1960s and ‘70s, we had very forward-thinking leaders who believed that this was part of our obligation. Developing technology was very meaningful to them, and we continue to work to find solutions to America’s—and the world’s—energy challenges.”
Southern Company has to operate responsibly and sustainably to provide stable energy prices to consumers even as supplies and regulations change. Southern Company reduces cost volatility through investing in a diverse portfolio of energy resources, including coal, natural gas, nuclear, energy efficiency, hydro and other renewables. “When natural gas prices spiked last winter, we operated our coal units more and our gas units less, saving customers $100 million by leveraging the flexibility of our generating fleet,” Greene explains. “Our diverse energy mix is designed to mitigate the impact of volatile fossil fuel prices and deliver customer value in changing market conditions.”
In 2013, Southern Company derived approximately 42 percent of its electricity from natural gas, 38 percent from coal, 16 percent from nuclear and 4 percent from hydro. But in keeping with its history of innovation, the company has plans for greater diversification. Subsidiary Georgia Power is constructing Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4, the first new nuclear power units built in the United States since the 1970s, near Waynesboro, Georgia.
Greene understands the American public’s complicated relationship with nuclear but states that those attitudes are beginning to change and believes Southern Company has a responsibility to share information about nuclear. “The more people learn about nuclear power and how safe it is, the more comfortable they generally become. In the Southeast, where many are familiar with the benefits of nuclear, its favorability polls relatively high. I believe the electric utility industry’s ability to communicate the facts about nuclear in layman’s terms is important to continue growing public support for nuclear.”
Greene wants consumers to know what their power company does for them and how using electricity wisely can impact their wallet. It might sound like a bad business strategy for a company that wants to sell electricity to teach its customers to use less, but that’s exactly what Southern Company is doing by investing in robust energy efficiency programs. “It’s important for our customers to be wise consumers of electricity, and we want to help them realize the value of energy efficiency improvements in their homes,” Greene explains.
“We keep our business sustainable, so we can be that good corporate citizen,” Greene says. “Corporate responsibility is part of our DNA.”
To learn more about how Southern Company’s is delivering clean power and their diverse portfolio of energy resources go here. To learn more about Mississippi Power’s Kemper County energy facility go here.