CUMMING, Ga. – With every segment of the economy touched by electricity, it’s easy for Paul Bowers, Georgia Power president and chief executive officer, to gauge the economy.
The economy, education and energy were key points Bowers addressed at the Lanier-Forsyth Rotary Club meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 28.
At Georgia Power, Bowers has a unique vantage point.
“We see every segment of the market; we see what is happening in residential, commercial and industrial segment,” he said.
The industrial segment includes steel, chemical and paper industries, plus Bowers serves in the federal bank’s energy council and he is constantly updated on what’s happening in the economy.
For a perspective, Bowers said that from 2000 to 2008, Georgia Power on average added 45,000 customers per year.
“You felt that, the boom was happening; you had houses built all over the place, commercial were going gangbusters, you had strip malls and different activities in the state,” he said.
In 2009, after the great recession started, the company only added 4,000 new customers.
In 2010, there were 7,500 customers added and in 2011, for the first time in the company’s history, there were customers lost.
“Jobs were not being created and households were being consolidated and people moved back home,” Bowers said. “We saw the children that were out come home and make a consolidation.”
In 2012, the company began to see an uptick by adding 16,000 customers. In 2013, it had 21,000 new customers.
“There’s a momentum through the marketplace,” Bowers said. “We are seeing signs that the economy is moving.”
But Bowers said there’s still work to be done to affect unemployment in the state, which hovers around 7 percent.
“We have a marketplace, entrepreneurs starting to take off. We are seeing a new opportunity for our kids,” Bowers said.
Bowers was named Georgia Power president and CEO in December 2010. Georgia Power is the largest subsidiary of Southern Company. Prior to his current position, he was chief financial officer of Southern Company
Bowers also serves on the boards of Nuclear Electric Insurance Ltd., the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, AFLAC and the Georgia Historical Society. He is chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, past chair of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education and vice chair of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
When it comes to energy, Bowers said, it’s critical to project 20 to 30 years into the future.
“We have to have affordable, reliable, dependable, sustainable energy,” Bowers said.
Decisions made now, along with the Public Safety Commission, will affect prices. Energy consists of more than just electricity – it’s also coal, gas, hydro, solar, oil and nuclear.
While coal plants, which used to produce 70 percent of the energy in the state and now produce 30 percent, have been closed around the state because of more stringent environmental compliance standards, Bowers said the state has moved to a gas-dominant utility.
About 50 percent of the energy produced in the state is coming from gas, he said.
Renewable energy such as solar serve more as a supplemental source, Bowers said.
Two additional nuclear units are being constructed at the company’s Plant Vogtle, located south of Augusta. The company expects to complete the plants by 2018.
“It produces energy at 1 cent per kilowatt hour for the next 60 years,” Bowers said. “In America, there are four nuclear plants being built – two in Georgia and two in South Carolina.”
Worldwide, there are 65 nuclear plants being constructed – with China building 29 nuclear plants, 10 in Russia, seven in India, four in South Korea and four in Turkey.
“This is a zero emission plant,” he said.
When completed, Vogtle, which was started in 2004 and delayed after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, will be the largest nuclear site in America.
Bowers called on Rotarians to set higher standards for education. While some who work for Georgia Power can make about $25 to $30 an hour, about 50 percent of applicants can’t pass a basic employment test.
“We should be ashamed at the state; we’ve got to be engaged,” Bowers said. “We’ve got to be advocates and set the standards. We as business leaders, me in particular, I want to make sure that every school in the state understands what we are looking for and hold them accountable for the output of the product.”