Sam Burnham, Curator
I recently had a chance to talk energy with an employee of Plant Hammond. Hammond is a coal fired plant in the Coosa community, west of Rome. I didn’t ask him to formally go on the record so I’ll treat him as anonymous but what he shared with me is accurate and easily verifiable.
I've discussed Hammond on the blog previously. It’s quite doomed. In fact, they are sitting on a remnant of coal that can either be used in case of an unforeseen need, such as a failure at another plant, or burned off during the peak times this coming winter. New regulations on the handling and storage of wet processed coal ash go into effect April 15, 2019. After that date, the boilers at Hammond will never burn another ounce of coal.
Hammond was built in the 1950s and has provided a more than adequate return on investment for The Southern Company and Georgia Power. But the plant is aging and the upgrades needed to sustain the plant are excessive and not advisable. It is far more cost effective for Georgia Power to replace the plant. So they’ll close and demolish it like they did with Plant Branch bear Eatonton.
But there is already talk of using the real estate for more energy options. The company is planning to build solar on the site. With the distribution infrastructure already in place, the site is already primed for use. Adding gas generators would require extensive pipeline construction. The sun is already shining on the sites so solar make sense.
We also discussed the fact that a few weeks ago, Georgia Power put a batch of solar from California on the grid. The amount brought in was in excess of the generation capacity of Plant Hammond. Solar isn’t just a rooftop hobby anymore. It is becoming a serious power option.
With possible solar options, the expansion of Plant Votgle, and new natural gas generators coming online, not to mention a respectable presence of hydroelectric facilities, Georgia will have a further diversified energy portfolio. We’ll be tapping sources closer to home. And that can mean cheaper, cleaner, more efficient energy in our state and in The South.
But coal isn't dead. With a powerhouse like Plant Bowen, in Euharlee, near Cartersville, coal is alive and well. Bowen remains the one of the most powerful generation stations anywhere and it’s not going anywhere soon. The state also has other substantial coal plants. So those trains hauling in huge chunks of West Virginia will still be rolling through for the foreseeable future.
With all this in mind, the next episode of our podcast will feature a chat with Tim Echols of the Georgia Public Service Commission. He shares some ideas for the future as well as how the future is already well underway right here in the Peach State. We talk about some of the limitations on our portfolio and also other issues related to energy production. I hope you'll give the episode a listen. .
By Sam Burnham, Curator
One of the late evening conversations during the Cracker weekend was about the Agrarian Ideals that we hold dear. Of particular note is the economic theory that we wish to espouse. Capitalism is, by far, the best economic system ever conceived in the minds of mankind. The freedom and incentives built into the system make it efficient, competitive, and, most importantly, free.
But along with the liberty of capitalism comes a responsibility. While economic markets should not be weighed down with restrictive government regulations, it should still be regulated. But instead of the laws of the land, this economic system should be governed by things far more solemn and forbearing. It is this very regulation that we are missing in our society today. Our inability to implement this one principle is what is causing unemployment, wage stagnation, probably every economic shortfall in this nation today.The only way that free systems can survive is if we maintain them with the principles that must govern them. A system designed to work for good people must be maintained by good people.
These principles are driven by the intrinsic value of a human being. This value is not something that can be measured in dollars, rubles, or yen. In fact, if you reduce this value down to a measurable amount of money, you have just destroyed the value entirely. Money is always going to be one of the restrictions that business leaders face when operating. And a budget will always have limits on how much a proprietor can afford to expend in salaries and benefits. But if we address the value of a person in terms of currency alone, we are missing the point.
Mechanization and automation are both replacing people in commerce, industry, and agriculture. Banks use automated tellers, stores have self-checkout, factories employ robots, all in the name of lower costs, lower prices, higher profits. But what are the costs? Just the other day I saw a post on Twitter where someone was trying to communicate with their online bank - one of those new things with no branches, just websites. He wasn't getting much service. I had been in my local bank earlier that same day. Upon entering, two tellers greeted me by my first name, then they both greeted my coworker by his first name. They each helped one of us and in less time than it took for that other guy to send a tweet, we had both completed transactions and were on our way back out the front door. It's a human touch, a personal connection. That face-to-face transaction is backed by an interaction in a community, not a glint in a microprocessor.
When we cut this human interaction out, no matter how menial we think the task to be, we are taking from someone a chance to provide for themselves. We are taking from ourselves a chance to interact with another person. In doing this we take a bit of the humanity out of our society. We continue the pattern of dehumanizing each other and in doing so, we dehumanize ourselves. In that act of turning "Amy" at the bank into a button on a touchscreen we have made our community a little less valuable. Yes, the bank may have more money because they pay one less person. We may even benefit because the bank can afford to give us a higher yield on an account. But a member of our community lost her job to a machine. There may not be another job for her because of all the other machines coming on line. Then what? What happens once a machine can do our job?
A story I heard on NPR this past week was reporting on such technological advances and how these machines will free people up to do "more detailed" or "more important" tasks. But unless we eventually determine what these tasks are and how people learn to do them, all the advancements do is continuously replace people with machines. Another unintended consequence is that we devalue the art of manual labor. There are people who have an innate ability, even the desire, to work with their hands. These are people who don't withdraw from sweat and grime that come from physically handling their work. They don't take issue with being physically tired after an honest day's work. Who are we to determine that these tasks are better off done by machines? We have developed the erroneous, perhaps dangerous, assumption that everyone wants, even needs, to attend college and work in an office, that this is the way to wealth and enlightenment. That's not fair to a group of people who aren't wired that way, people we devalue and demean by suggesting their proclivity toward manual labor makes them somehow less of a human.
It is time for us to change. It is time to stop mechanizing or automating every job out there. It is time to return to the idea that the human factor has worth, that the bottom line is not the only value that business has to budget into the cost of operation. We have to once again understand that our human resources are exactly that - human. Until we begin treating people as people, rather than as expenditures, we will continue to live in a dangerous world where people feel like and therefore treat others as liabilities rather than assets,
By Sam Burnham
There is a lot of buzz being generated right now over the possibility of Amazon opening a secondary headquarters campus (HQ2) in the Atlanta area. There have been several rumored sites for the theoretical Atlanta location. There area several other cities in contention and each has its own strengths and weaknesses based on a list of Amazon's preferences in regard to infrastructure and quality of life.
Many Georgians living outside the metro are casting a skeptical eye on this development and not because we think Atlanta can't pull this off. On the contrary, it's because we know Atlanta is the best choice on the list.
When you look into the quality of life -museums, concerts, entertainment, sports, restaurants, bars, Atlanta is a magnet. Georgia's business friendly laws and regulations are specifically geared for this campaign. The presence of the Georgia Institute of Technology and the portion of Kennesaw State formerly Southern Polytechnic offers an Amazon River of entry level employees just minutes, perhaps only blocks, from the proposed locations. Atlanta's airport puts the employees of the new site within two hours of 75% of the US population and most major US business centers.
This leaves only Atlanta's traffic and relatively meager transit system as a drawback for Amazon, who includes ease of commute and transportation in their list of preferences. With the City of Atlanta and Governor Deal both scrambling to do whatever it takes to get this deal done, the upcoming push for improved and expanded transit is all too predictable.
Who Stands to Benefit
As with all economic development in the Peach State, Atlanta stands to reap major benefits from this deal. While Cobb, Dekalb, and other metro counties could actually be the host of the site, the amenities of Atlanta are the draw and will be raking in the cash spent by an estimated 50,000 employees averaging $100,000 annually.
If we do see the expanded transit it will take to seal this deal outright, Cobb, Dekalb, (wealthy northern) Fulton, Gwinnett, and perhaps Hall counties on the north end will see new transportation options to better connect them with the new jobs and the amenities we've mentioned. There would be similar benefits for Douglas, (growing) southern Fulton, Clayton, and Henry counties. These counties are where the incoming Amazons will live, work, and play.
The annual influx of $5 billion in salaries alone would be a economic boom for the state. There is no denying the actual numbers of the deal. Add in the operational costs (theoretically spent locally) for maintaining such a campus would fund vendors and other businesses in the area well beyond the foreseeable future. This is a very big deal.
The Unseen Costs
Georgia Changed forever on September 18, 1990. An announcement in Tokyo, Japan proclaimed Atlanta as the host of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Atlanta was a growing city and showed much economic promise. But the Olympics changed the game forever. In the years leading up to the games, Atlanta grew rapidly. The city was on the map. The whole world was talking about it. Businesses and people came in droves. They loved the climate, the economy, and everything else Atlanta was coming to offer. They stayed. And more came behind them. In 27 years Atlanta has gone from a big city by the standards of the South to a world class metropolis. It has been an amazing transformation to say the least.
But what people living in the non-metro areas have learned in that time is that there is no wall around that metropolis to keep it in. While many other world class cities have grown up and up towards the clouds, Atlanta has grown up and out, spreading across the landscape like a patch of concrete kudzu, covering everything in its path.
This is where the perceptions of the people of outlying Georgia come into play. This is where understanding the concerns of "fly-over" or even "drive-past" Georgia will make a difference if there must be a state-wide push to make this deal happen.
Everyday, Atlantans sit in traffic possibly thinking that they are beginning or finishing a day of productive economic activity that benefits the economy of the state. What they don't know is that there are a multitude of people in the TV market area that are watching the traffic updates on channels 2, 5, 11, and 46 and laughing at the "fools" sitting in traffic. It is like the zoo where people observe captive species and wonder at their mannerisms and behavior. But mostly they just hope to never live in such a manner. Pile on the crime, lack of affordable housing, the small building lots, and lack of exposed earth, count us out. We don't want that. Not in our back yard.
But that is what we see every single time the strip malls, overhead superhighways, and office parks pop up just a little closer to the house. And there is no Roundup for that sort of kudzu. There is no way to resist it as farm after forest falls under the bulldozer, never to be seen again.
Ironically, the people in the bulldozers and those who follow, immediately begin to lecture us on the environment, climate change, emissions, recycling, "sustainability." It becomes the Once-ler giving the Lorax a good lesson on conservation.
This is what folks outside Metro Atlanta hear when Atlantans tell us about the economic benefits of this deal. When Atlanta booms, it lands on us. And we don't necessarily want it.
Reaching for Cooperation
I don't want to finish this article without covering a Twitter conversation I had on Thursday with Teri Anulewicz on this very topic. Teri is a Democratic candidate for Georgia House District 42 as well as the former Smyrna Ward 3 representative and Mayor Pro Tem. She was reaching out to me in search of understanding after I had tweeted about my diminished enthusiasm for the Amazon HQ2 Atlanta plan. This was a honest search for understanding and the genuineness of the conversation was refreshing in these times.
The transit improvements will require some regional, if not state-wide, cooperation. Atlanta cannot do this alone. But selling the plan to the outlying areas is going to be difficult. There would be some greater access to transit for many Georgians. But will the cost be worth the amount of times we plan to use the improvements? As long as we see Atlanta transit (again, perception) as a place to pay to get mugged on an inconvenient time schedule, we're going to drive our own cars and pay to park. If the parking disappears, we just won't go. It won't be worth it. If you want to sell transit improvements to us, show us how it makes our lives better directly or we will never agree to help pay for it.
That is where the conversations like the one Teri and I had this past week become vital in our future. Metro folks need to listen to our concerns, understand that we don't always see their idea of economic growth as beneficial to us. We often see it as counterproductive and dangerous to our communities and our way of life.
It also won't hurt us to listen as well. Perhaps in doing so we develop a better relationship between the "two Georgias" and can find benefits for both sides in the discussion. For example, in our discussion Teri and I agreed that the expansion of the Port of Savannah benefited the whole state. Projects like that can be cooperative and everyone can win a little. Both of our ideas of good economics are represented.
If we can create new ways for Atlanta to thrive without paving the entire state, that can be a similar situation. I don't think we have to have it one way or the other. Honestly, I think Atlanta is too far gone for us to ever have it "our" way. I don't think our economy or environment can withstand having it only "their" way. So now we are faced with the reality of the metro and the rural partnering for a healthy coexistence. But that requires respect, trust, communication, and some willingness that I saw Thursday. And thank you, Teri, for being a part of that.
Let us look to the future: trust but verify.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire