The 2024 State Legislative Session was memorable for Georgia Conservation Voters. We helped introduce four pieces of legislation, hosted an advocacy day with our non-profit partners, and rolled out our 100% Renewable Energy Campaign. We were on the tail end of a bi-annual session, meaning we had legislation from 2023 and 2024 to engage with.

Here’s how climate, environmental justice, and democracy fared this session:

Introducing GCV’s 100% Clean Renewable Energy Campaign to the Gold Dome:
This year, we launched our advocacy campaign “100%”, which ties our legislative efforts at the Capitol with grassroots organizing efforts to connect our supporters with their legislators, creating true mobilization efforts behind our policy priorities. Our vision for 100% clean energy by the year 2050 for Georgia will only be possible when we create a mass movement across the state behind this goal, bringing voters from different backgrounds to rally for a cleaner economy. One in three Americans live in a state committed to 100% clean energy. Georgia is one of only 11 states with no renewable energy goals or plans to reduce carbon pollution. This failure risks lives and costs billions of our tax dollars in damage. Twenty-two states have set the goal of achieving 100 percent carbon-free power generation, and Georgia is not one of them. These resolutions allow us to indicate to the legislature and to the Governor that this is a priority of ours. We will keep beating the drum on the need to create a state renewable energy goal.

We were incredibly proud of introducing two 100% renewable energy resolutions in the House and Senate. Through the leadership of Representative Kim Schofield (D-63) and Senator Sheikh Rahman (D-5), we introduced two resolutions in the House and Senate chambers, H.R. 807 and S.R. 678, to support transitioning the state of Georgia to 100% clean energy by the year 2050. H.R 807 garnered the signatures of six lawmakers, and S.R 678 garnered 19 signatures, including one Republican.
The wonderful thing about these resolutions is that they directly tie to our advocacy campaign “100%,” which allows not just elected officials but activists and community members across the state to join the fight for 100% clean energy around the state. Cities and municipalities like Athens-Clarke County, Dekalb County, Augusta-Richmond County, City of Atlanta, City of Savannah, and the City of Clarkston have already committed to transitioning to 100% clean energy through resolutions passed in their commissions or city councils; it is time for Governor Kemp and the State Legislature to get on board. While these resolutions ultimately did not have a vote, we believe that they are a powerful tool to understand better the roster of legislators willing to stand up and co-sponsor this, regardless of the powerful influence of the fossil fuel industry over the legislature.

Addressing Energy Burden and High Power Bills:
Some of our most significant pieces of legislation were the bills we introduced with the help of some of our Climate Champion legislators. We introduced two important bills with Representative Becky Evans (D-90), which aim to help low-income residents with their utility bills. The Georgians First Fund (HB 1196) would create a fund from excess utility revenues to support affordable energy conservation and access to essential electric services for low-income ratepayers. Georgia has the nation’s eighth-highest electricity bill costs, and this fund could provide millions of dollars each year to help those who need it most. The fund would support programs like bill payment assistance, weatherization, energy efficiency, demand management, and residential and community solar.

The Georgia Utility Transparency Act (HB 1178) would require Georgia Power to file quarterly data, providing greater transparency for customers struggling to pay their electric bills. This draft legislation would ensure that the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) considers the quality of Georgia Power’s service to fixed- and low-income customers when setting rates and allowed profits. This includes factors like the cost of providing electric service, the utility’s efforts to help low-income customers through energy efficiency and bill assistance programs, and the utility’s efforts to minimize disconnections and costs from overdue bills. The act requires Georgia Power to make quarterly public filings with information on their residential customers, such as the number of customers and amount billed by location and income level, participation in bill assistance and energy efficiency programs, customers with overdue bills and deferred payment plans, late fees, disconnection notices, actual disconnections, and uncollectible accounts that were written off.
While both bills failed to make it to the House floor or have a committee vote, we want to continue holding Georgia Power accountable to bill-payers. We will pick these issues up in the next session.

Public Service Commission Accountability:
Georgia Legislature Tries to Address Holding our PSC Accountable to the People:
GCV was also an active supporter of SB 457, a bill introduced by Senator Hufstetler (R-52) establishing a Consumer Utility Council to represent the interests of Georgia ratepayers before the public utility regulating body, Georgia’s Public Service Commission. The Public Service Commission is a body of 5 elected officials who regulate our electricity, natural gas, and telecommunications across Georgia. They decide how much Georgia Power consumers pay for power and what kind of energy sources Georgia Power uses. The Consumer Utility Council would establish a position to advocate for Georgia rate-payers before the PSC considers additional rate hikes.
The PSC has relentlessly approved bill increases for Georgia Power customers, and for far too long Georgians have been largely shut out of these decisions. Thanks to our efforts in coalition, SB 457 passed the Senate chamber unanimously. However, the House Agricultural Committee it was assigned to did not have a vote despite our efforts to call into offices and meet with House Leadership and the leadership of this committee. We will continue to fight for more accountability with the Public Service Commission and look for opportunities to establish a Consumer Utility Council in the future.

Attacks on Solar Power:
Once Again, the Georgia Legislature Blocks the Sun:
SB 210, “The Georgia Homegrown Solar Act of 2023,” introduced by Senator Jason Anavitarte (R-31), and the House companion, “The Georgia Homegrown Solar Act of 2024,” introduced by Representative Beth Camp (R-135), would have increased access rooftop and community solar through a program called net metering. Net metering would fairly compensate rooftop solar customers for the excess power they generate. The 2024 House version tried to expand “community solar” or access to a solar energy grid shared by neighborhoods. Most Georgia homes and businesses with solar panels have been underpaid for the solar energy they send to the grid. Georgia must catch up to states like Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina in rooftop solar power generation. However, Georgia Power and its army of lobbyists continue to prioritize their corporate profits over access to solar energy production at the household level, where they can not profit from the energy production.

Georgia Power’s monthly net metering program was created as a part of the 2019 Public Service Commission (PSC) Rate Case with the support of GA Solar. The Public Service Commission added a cap of 5,000 customers or 32MW of capacity, whichever came first. Under this program, rather than instantly crediting a customer’s excess solar generation at wholesale prices, the utility uses excess solar power to offset consumption, reducing the customer’s bill. However, this cap was surpassed quickly, and most Georgians, who are approximately 2.7 million customers of Georgia Power Company and are present in 155 of Georgia’s 159 counties, cannot currently participate in the net metering program. While interest groups in the fossil fuel industry defeated these two bills, the positive outcome was that State Representative Beth Camp (R-135) was awarded a House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Ad Hoc Committee on Community Solar to pick these policy issues back up in 2025 hopefully.

Two other pieces of legislation, HB 73 and HB 300, were made less harmful to the solar industry. HB 73 would have originally made the Public Service Commission issue a Certificate of Authority for homeowners to install rooftop solar. It was thankfully stalled not to make it past the Senate. We opposed the COA because we understood this would create a roadblock to rooftop solar access when the PSC does not have a prior history of issuing these permits. More staff would also be needed to do it expediently. While we want to battle any fraudulent activity in the solar panel industry, more effective avenues exist. HB 300 was a bill that initially would have forced for a state fund to be established for the disposal of solar panels; many would argue this is an attempt to slow down solar energy and make an issue of disposals when we do not know yet the lifespan of many solar panels in use. HB 300 was reduced from a fund to an upfront fee that would later be issued as a grant program to remove solar panels that are no longer usable to the users of the solar energy system.

Removing Tax Breaks from Energy-Guzzling Data Centers:
A bill that was very important to the energy industry was House Bill 1192, which prohibits the Department of Revenue Commissioner from granting new tax breaks for specific high-tech data center equipment until June 30, 2026. We supported this legislation because the data center industry that Georgia provided extensive tax exemptions is creating a significant energy demand that our existing energy grid will only be able to sustain for a bit longer. Some reports estimate that the data centers alone are sufficient to wipe off the energy production of Plants Vogtle 3 and 4. Georgia Power is utilizing the demand for these data centers on our state’s energy grid as an excuse to build new gas plants and keep coal usage up. Additionally, HB 1192 would have established a Special Commission on Data Center Energy Planning within the Department of Economic Development. The commission would consist of 14 members who will assess the current electric grid and energy supply, provide recommendations for data center location, and evaluate the sufficiency of data center capacity in Georgia. Sadly, after the Georgia State legislature passed this bill to the Governor, the Governor used his power to veto a sensible measure to slow down the large energy demand that is our data center industry.

Protecting the Okefenokee:
HB 71, The “Okefenokee Protection Act,” proposed amendments to the existing laws of the state of Georgia regarding surface mining to address the mining permits near the Okefenokee Swamp. House Bill 71, was introduced by Chair Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) and would prevent future mining on a very specific portion of Trail Ridge, outside of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. HB 71 has garnered an unprecedented 93 of the 180 members of the House as sponsors.  A mining company called Twin Peaks has a mining permit which will put at risk the entire ecosystem at Okefenokee Swamp. The Okefenokee Swamp is a large hydrologically intact swamp that is the source of two rivers – one that flows into the Atlantic and the other into the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of the world’s largest naturally driven freshwater ecosystems with a diversity of habitat types, including 21 vegetative types. The refuge’s undisturbed peat beds store valuable information on environmental conditions over the past 5,000 years and are a significant source of information related to global changes.
Unfortunately, HB 71 never had a vote in the committee it was assigned to; despite having 90-plus signatures, profits were prioritized over the environment. Subsequent bills were introduced, such as HB 1338 and SB 132, both of which proposed a three-year moratorium on accepting new permit applications for surface mining that uses dragline mining to extract heavy mineral sands. We opposed both measures with partner environmental organizations because the three-year mining moratorium would not apply to the Twin Peaks project, nor would it affect ongoing mining operations for that project; we wanted a more ambitious proposal that would outright prohibit mining operations indefinitely. We believe that the proposal set about by leaders who blocked HB 71 was a performative and meaningless proposal. Our fight to protect the Okefenokee continues.

Protecting Our State’s Water and Fighting Against Privatizing Water Utility:
We were proud to celebrate the passage of HB 1223, which prohibits illegal dumping of soil amendments. This bill makes it illegal to dump a soil amendment (industrial waste) on properties throughout the state. Previously, these facilities dumped biohazardous waste throughout Georgia without environmental regulations. This resulted in water pollution, fish deaths, and public health hazards. This will allow the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to enforce rules and address the regulatory gaps. HB 1223 is headed for the Governor’s desk after nearly unanimously passing the House and Senate!

Another victory is the defeat of HB 370, which would have allowed developers to use our fragile coastal marshlands for construction. This victory is crucial as it preserves the natural habitats and protects our coastal environment and wildlife.

One significant loss that deserves attention is the passage of HB 1146, a bill that pertains to regulating private water systems in Georgia’s Coastal Plain. The bill allows private water providers to sell access to our drinking water supply to the highest bidder without local government oversight. This measure could have had far-reaching consequences, as it refers to “coastal aquifers,” which are not clearly defined in the bill or state law.

Attacks on Democracy and Further Delays on PSC Races:
Democracy saw many attacks in preparation for a contentious Presidential election cycle for Georgians in 2024. The legislature cemented the undemocratic elections of the Public Service Commission further than before. HB 1312 passed, and the original bill’s language was stripped from an electric vehicle bill that environmental advocates supported to an anti-democratic bill that we strongly oppose. The substitute bill, introduced by Senator John F Kennedy, addresses delayed 2022 and 2024 elections for Public Service Commissioners (PSC) by determining new dates for each district. However, the bill extends PSC terms from 6 years to 8 years until they are due up for re-election, shifting election dates back two more years and allowing current PSC members, many of whom are serving in seats they are not currently elected, to remain in their positions.
Another harmful piece of legislation, SB 189, disenfranchises Black and brown voters, seniors, students, rural voters, and Georgia’s unhoused population. This bill complicates the voting process, overburdens election staff, and elevates the power of election deniers. It requires all absentee ballots to be counted within an hour of the polls closing, creates changes in ballot design, and makes harmful changes for unhoused individuals. It also makes it easier to challenge a voter.

Lastly, one of our efforts was for the exploration and possible implementation of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) to create more democratic voting mechanisms for municipalities in Georgia and avoid the incredibly costly and challenging process of runoff elections, with a second election being automatically triggered in Georgia if a candidate does not secure 50% of the vote. Once Senate Bill 355 was introduced by Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones, banning Ranked Choice Voting outright when it is only currently utilized by military and overseas Georgians, our support with coalition partners lent to defeating this harmful pre-emptive measure. Our goal is to explore models where RCV could benefit election offices in Georgia that continuously struggle to secure the funding and staffing necessary to hold general and subsequent runoff elections, making us one of few states to continue this electoral method.

2024 Legislative Session Wrap-Up and Ways to Remain Engaged:

Our work encompassed many issue areas. We worked in diverse coalitions to defend and protect Georgia’s climate on all fronts and will continue to work to combat voter suppression. Thanks to our supporters informing their neighbors and loved ones about issues about the environment so we can create grassroots mobilizing efforts and genuinely hold elected officials accountable. We had successes, some losses, but we were able to delude incredibly harmful legislation that would further Georgia’s environmental pollution and fossil fuel dependency. These efforts are only the beginning, and we want you to remain engaged in our efforts throughout the year and our advocacy campaign “100%.” You can sign our 100% pledge to urge our leaders to move our state towards a clean energy future; you can also join us at our 100% GCV page that has valuable information such as our action alert page where you can contact your legislator, links to social media, and events. Democracy requires our engagement year-round, and we are excited to continue our 100% campaign throughout the year with your support.

In solidarity,
Jesús Rubio