Georgia Power to Build Its “Largest Ever” Solar Farm in Warner Robins

With Plant Vogtle on the eastern side of the state receiving a barrage of bad news and bad press over the past few months, Georgia Power has been looking for something — anything —that could counter all of the negativity and reframe the debate abut clean energy in Georgia. With the announcement Tuesday of an 800 acre solar farm that will contain more than 500,000 solar panels, they may have found it.

The farm is projected to begin construction soon and should provide power for 35 years, beginning in 2019, the projected opening date It will be located close to Robins Air Force Base, and it will have the ability to serve the base directly in times of grid outages.

From WMAZ:

“It is about enhancing the military value of the economic engine of this community and of this state,” says Major General, Robert McMahon.

The 139-megawatt facility will be the largest single solar project ever to be constructed by Georgia Power.

Five Georgias: Atlanta’s Urban Core

This week’s Courier Herald Column. This is the third installment of this series. You can track back to the beginning starting with the previous installment here.

In this, the third in a series explaining the regions that make up Georgia’s political factions, we’re going begin to take a look at each region one by one, beginning today with Atlanta’s Urban Core. For purposes of review, the other regions are Suburban Atlanta, The Mountains, South Georgia, and Coastal Georgia. This is an exploration into the economic and cultural forces that enable each region to form political coalitions as no individual region has dominant power to stand alone on any legislative matter.

We’re going to start with Urban Atlanta to help illustrate what we’re not talking about with respect to dividing lines, in order to later help illustrate where those lines likely are. The Urban Core is a land of haves and have nots. It encompasses neighborhoods that are among the most prosperous in the state. It also has Georgians suffering from some of the state’s worst poverty. The majority of the region is non-white, but there are many neighborhoods that are mostly white.

Because of all of these differences, there was quite a bit of feedback from last week’s column suggesting that this region should be further divided. Such division may be in Urban Atlanta’s future. But for now, this region elects almost exclusively Democratic legislators in a state where Republicans are dominant. It remains one region not because of its political power, but for lack of it.

This is not to say that the Urban Core lacks political power. The political power in this region lies in the economic engines contained within, and the Republicans’ belief that local control is nearly infallible. Continue reading “Five Georgias: Atlanta’s Urban Core”

The Two Georgias Are Now Five Georgias

This week’s Courier Herald column:

This is the second in a series. The introductory column can be found here.

During the 1980’s, the Director of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Service Tal DuVall published a study on “Two Georgias”, highlighting the growing disparity between a prosperous and growing metro Atlanta, and a mostly rural “other Georgia”. It was not well received by then Governor Joe Frank Harris. Enough so that Mr. DuVall wasn’t around long enough to publicize his ideas. That credit is generally given to Doug Bachtel.

It’s never been politically popular to acknowledge that there is more than one Georgia. Whether standing in downtown Atlanta on Peachtree Street, a farm outside of Dublin Georgia, a beach on Tybee Island, or tying up to a dock in Blue Ridge, we’re all presumed to be politically equal. From the perspective of those that govern us, we are all equal in the eyes of the state.

Economically and politically, the various regions of Georgia can only be considered equal when viewed through the distortion of a political lens. The economic disparity can be proven through statistical data of income and sales tax receipts, and through the distribution of Medicaid and SNAP dollars. The political disparities often change with the topic, depending on how the legislators within each region choose to caucus on an issue.

Georgia politics is not the same as it was thirty years ago when we debated and pretended to ignore that there were two Georgias. We’re now a state of ten million people and growing. We’re the eighth largest state in the country, and in less than a generation we’ll likely be the fifth. The political party in power in statewide offices and with near super-majorities in the legislature is different.

We’re no longer a state of two Georgias. In political and economic reality, there are at least five Georgias. Continue reading “The Two Georgias Are Now Five Georgias”

Speaker Ralston Names Rural Development Council

A couple of weeks ago I previewed the need to get the issues of rural Georgia into the 2018 statewide campaigns. The plight of rural Georgia affects us all, as policy decisions made in Atlanta (and often influenced by the 55% of the state that live in “Atlanta”) make a disproportional impact in that other Georgia. House Speaker David Ralston has named members of a Rural Development Council that will be looking at a variety of issues unique to rural Georgia. This isn’t your average “study committee”. Look at the names and titles of the members below. This is a serious effort to not only identify and isolate well known problems, but foster actual solutions – and translate the need for those solutions to those of us that live up here in “Atlanta”.

Press release follows:

ATLANTA – Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) today announced the members of the House Rural Development Council. This council, which was created during the recent legislative session, will work with rural communities to find ways to encourage economic growth.

“Georgia is a growing and prosperous state, and we are thankful for that,” said Speaker Ralston. “But that prosperity isn’t being felt in every community across Georgia. Some of our rural areas are still struggling, and we must do everything we can to help private businesses grow jobs in every corner of our state.” Continue reading “Speaker Ralston Names Rural Development Council”

Georgia’s Tax Incentives for Film and Television Add $7.2 Billion to State’s Economy

In 2016, television and film added $7.2 billion to the Georgia economy during FY 2016, according to an article in AdWeek. The 245 in-state productions had a direct impact of $2.02 billion, largely around the Atlanta area. Explore Georgia has the full list of films and television filmed in state for those curious.

This is up almost 50 percent from FY 2013, when 142 productions filmed in state contributed $3.3 million to the economy.

In case you were wondering how the breakdown on a single movie might look, the Atlanta Business Chronicle has you covered with a breakdown from The Fast & Furious 8: The Fate of the Furious. ($3.29 million on hotel rooms alone!) Continue reading “Georgia’s Tax Incentives for Film and Television Add $7.2 Billion to State’s Economy”

The Georgia Ports Authority Positions Itself as “the East Coast’s Leading Gateway”

The Georgia Ports Authority is taking over the world, Pinky expanding its influence and setting itself up to be “the East Coast leading gateway for containerized cargo.” It’s a title the GPA will share with the Virginia Port Authority, but who’s counting?

On Friday, the Federal Maritime Commission approved the two entitites’ joint application to develop the East Coast Gateway Terminal Agreement, which will allow GPA and VPA to share information regarding cargo handling, staffing, performance, infrastructure, and operational procedures. It also allows GPA and VPA to market their ports together. This agreement does not allow the two to jointly negotiate, set, or approve terminal rates or changes. This is the first agreement of this kind the FMC has approved. Charlie wrote about it back in February, when the deal was submitted for review.

Together, the ports in Savannah and Hampton Roads accounted for 32 percent of East Coast market share in 2016, and they are the second and third largest ports by volume behind the Port of New York and New Jersey. The creation of the East Coast Gateway Terminal Agreement will allow the Georgia and Virginia ports to become more streamlined and therefore capable of taking on a bigger share of cargo coming to the East Coast.

This announcement comes as the Port of Savannah has reached 60 percent completion on the deepening of its Savannah River entrance, which will deepen the inner harbor to 47 feet at low tide and 54 feet at high tide. The Army Corps of Engineers updated its cost estimate for the project in March to $938 million, an increase of 38 percent.

A UGA economic study found that the ports in Georgia are responsible for 1 in 12 jobs in the state.

It’s Not About The Yacht Owners

This week’s Courier Herald column:

The members of the Georgia General Assembly left Atlanta at the end of March with quite a few tax proposals left sitting on their desks, rather than sending them on to the Governor’s. Under consideration was a bill that would have cut the top income tax rate marginally while increasing some taxes on lower wage earners, and a bill that would have cut the taxes paid on leasing while increasing the title transfer fee on used cars to a value closer to their true market rate. Those bills died.

A bill that passed, however, eliminate sales and use tax on repairs, upgrades and retrofits of large yachts. How large? Think closer to Rodney Dangerfield’s character’s from Caddyshack Al Cervick’s yacht, and less Judge Smail’s much more economy sized boat. For repairs to be tax exempt, they must reach $500,000. That’s a lot more than a scratch on an anchor.

The press and other ritual stone throwers haven’t been terribly kind to this bill. In today’s populist fueled political environment, it seems almost tone deaf to give a tax break to the rich owners of luxury yachts. That’s the current narrative surrounding this legislation.

Let’s quickly dispel this line of thinking. This bill isn’t for the yacht owners. Continue reading “It’s Not About The Yacht Owners”

GDOT Announces Suburban Tourism Program, I-85 To Be Renamed

Publisher’s note: The following was published on April 1, 2017. Not coincidentally, this date is also commonly known as “April Fool’s Day”. The following piece is pure satire/fiction. No actual GDOT employees (or, more specifically their quotes) appear in this piece. We regret that we live in a world where this disclaimer is necessary, and as is our tradition, blame others.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has announced “Suburban Tourism For U,” a new local program for commuters in the Atlanta region effective immediately. GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale, a former Auburn Cheerleader and Georgia’s reigning Brine Queen, gave details to reporters in front of a still smoldering section of I-85.

“Why try the same old freeways to go to and form work every single day?” Dale asked a gaggle of reporters in a presentation that was either spawned from a highly scripted, heavily focus-grouped campaign kickoff, or was something she and and GDOT Chief Engineer Meg Pickle made up on the fly to calm Atlanta’s panicking commuters after realizing that there really is no substitute for a 350′ span of elevated concrete used to support 250,000 cars per day. “We know that Atlanta commuters have a lot of questions about the highways they travel on, and we’re here to tell them about STFU!”

To jumpstart the marketing effort, GDOT will rename I-85 “The William T. Sherman Commemorative Highway,” with one section memorialized as “Winecoff Bridge.” GDOT’s plan will steer commuters away from their traditional routes to offices in Midtown and Buckhead, and instead guide them through different, more varied areas of the Atlanta region.

Dale, with a brave face similar to the one she donned during the 4th quarter of the 2008 Alabama-Auburn game, suggested motorists would enjoy new parts of often overlooked Georgia on their ways to and from work every day.

“GA 400 from Cumming to Midtown is really kind of monotonous when you think about it.” Dale said. “Why not just exit at Abernathy Road for a breakfast latte at Le Madeline on Perimeter Center West, then continue on down Ashford Dunwoody Road and begin that morning exercise program you’ve been meaning to take up at the Cowart YMCA. After a vigorous workout, head on down to Brookhaven for a tour of historic Oglethorpe College before arriving to your Buckhead office caffeinated, invigorated, and educated. And, maybe only 4-7 hours later than usual.

Learning about Atlanta’s history could make education a part of every metro Atlantan’s daily commute, Dale said. “The southern portion of DeKalb County has for too long been overlooked by Georgians who want to avoid pawn shops, weave stores and State Rep. Vernon Jones,” Dale said. “But DeKalb has changed so much and there’s lots and lots to see and learn about. Lots!” Continue reading “GDOT Announces Suburban Tourism Program, I-85 To Be Renamed”

Georgia Port Authority marks double-digit growth in total cargo

In a press release today, the Georgia Port Authority announced that it had it busiest February to date with a 10% increase over last February. The GPA moved 2.94 million tons across all docks, a figure surpassed only by January’s 3.01 million tons.

“Ocean carriers have recognized the Port of Savannah as the must-call port to serve the Southeastern U.S.,” GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch reported to the Authority Board Monday. “With the coming realignment of the shipping alliances in April, Savannah will offer more container services than any other East Coast or Gulf port, at 35 weekly vessel calls.”
Lynch said Savannah’s Ocean Terminal also achieved significant growth in February, with a 9.2 percent increase in breakbulk cargo for the month, led by linerboard, iron and steel, and autos.
“A 38 percent increase in iron and steel is a good leading indicator of future growth in construction, as well as automobile and other manufacturing,” he said.
Additionally, the ports chief noted that this week Garden City Terminal in Savannah will commission a new Neo-Panamax ship-to-shore crane, with three more set to come online by mid-April. A separate, $45.3 million order will bring four more cranes to the terminal in 2018, for a total of 30.
These cranes are necessary to serve the larger vessels calling on Savannah. In the six months prior to the late June 2016 opening of the expanded Panama Canal, Garden City Terminal had hosted no vessels with a capacity of 10,000 or more TEUs. From July through December 2016, the Port of Savannah received 31 calls from 10,000+ TEU vessels – matched only by Norfolk and New York-New Jersey on the U.S. East Coast.
“As our business expands, we are investing in the infrastructure that supports that growth so that we can continue to fulfill our mission of supporting American exports and bringing new industry to Georgia,” said GPA Board Chairman Jimmy Allgood.
In other business, the GPA Board approved a power grid upgrade to provide greater resiliency and capacity for electric-powered equipment at Garden City Terminal. Chief Operating Officer Ed McCarthy said the Port of Savannah’s continuing shift away from diesel saves the authority millions of dollars annually in energy costs and avoids tons of diesel emissions.
Georgia’s deepwater ports and inland barge terminals support more than 369,000 jobs throughout the state annually and contribute $20.4 billion in income, $84.1 billion in revenue and $2.3 billion in state and local taxes to Georgia’s economy. The Port of Savannah handled 8.2 percent of the U.S. containerized cargo volume and 10.3 percent of all U.S. containerized exports in CY2015.

It’s Time To Tax Internet Sales

This week’s Courier Herald column:

JCPenney, once among the nation’s largest and proudest retailers, announced last week that it would be closing an additional 138 stores nationwide. Five Georgia stores, including those in Dublin, Macon, Milledgeville, Thomasville, and Tifton will be shuttered.

While JCPenney has had recent struggles trying to define its brand and marketing mix, it is not an outlier in the retail landscape. Macy’s announced in January that it is closing 68 stores nationwide including their Athens location in Georgia Square Mall. Sears Holdings, which operates both Sears and K-Mart stores, is also planning on 150 store closures this year, including Georgia locations in Columbus, Cornelia, Kingsland, and Savannah.

The trend against many established big box retailers is strong, and appears to be growing. There are also signs that it’s not just department stores experiencing capacity issues. A recent Atlanta Journal Constitution report suggests that the metro area may have too many grocery stores.

While some of the closures are due to newer, smaller, and more nimble competitors entering the market, it’s now also easy to see a broad shift from large brick and mortar retailers to internet sales channels. The days of the internet being a new fragile frontier of commerce are over. Continue reading “It’s Time To Tax Internet Sales”