Energy is not the only thing on Paul Bowers’ mind.
While speaking at the Buckhead Business Association’s signature luncheon Thursday at 103 West, the president and CEO of Georgia Power Co. also emphasized how the statewide economy and education are at the core of his mission to build a better future.
Bowers, who has worked with Southern Co., Georgia Power’s parent company since 1979, said the energy his business sells gives him a unique perspective of the economy — from housing vacancy rates to the success of various industry sectors.
“One thing about our business — we touch millions of customers every day,” he said. “When we get that pulse back [through energy reports], we get a sense of what’s going on from a [gross domestic product] standpoint.”
Bowers said he has seen Georgia’s industrial sector downturn year-over-year by about 3.5 percent, while the building industry is prospering with about a 3.5 percent increase in power use year-over-year, calling this mix of outcomes the result of a “bipolar economy.”
“We’ve got to generate industries going all cylinders,” Bowers said. “We’ve got to get this economy moving forward.”
Georgia Power will add about 17,000 new customers this year, Bowers said, which is a good sign of a renewing economy.
“It’s nowhere close to the 45,000 we were adding before [the recession], but slowly and surely we’re making progress,” he said.
Buckhead has about a 70 percent residency rate, which he said is veering more toward a positive and normal number. Bowers said more construction like the Buckhead Atlanta project will follow because of this housing demand in addition to the large number of entrepreneurs interested in the community.
“There’s about 1,800 startups in the metro area,” Bowers said. “You might get another [Sandy Springs-based] AirWatch that starts with 1,500 new employees. The opportunity to build a space is there, and I think you’ll see people move forward and build more high-rises and get more commercial office space here.”
Bowers said the country as a whole needs to get on board with Georgia’s progressive construction of nuclear power plants like the $14 billion expansion of Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, saying the U.S. is lagging behind other modern countries like Russia and China.
“We’ve got this great desire to be energy independent,” he said. “We’ve got to have a comprehensive energy policy moving forward to create these opportunities,” noting the country’s plan should include further exploration of uses for nuclear, solar, coal and natural gas energy.
But with thousands of employee hopefuls failing basic employment tests every year, Bowers said Georgia Power must continue classroom education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) basics. He said more than 130,000 Georgia students have benefitted from Georgia Power programs in recent years.
“That fundamental math and science is critical for us,” he said. “You think about all the things that we do: we have smart grids now. We have digital platforms. We need employees that can actually understand math and science.”
Buckhead Community Improvement Executive Director Jim Durrett asked how Bowers would define smart grids and where Georgia Power is in the development of the technology — a question that earned him Braves tickets from an impressed Bowers.
Smart grids, Bowers said, simply digitize all the company’s hard wires to enable information flow back to Georgia Power in an effort to provide reliable service.
“The investments we’ve made around digital platforms [have helped us] especially around Buckhead,” he said. “When you used to have a tree fall, it used to take out 1,000 customers [power service.] Now we can isolate that tree to a few customers and get everybody back within a few minutes.”
After the discussion, Bowers confirmed Georgia Power presented its case Wednesday to the Public Service Commission, as is mandated every three years, to establish service rates based on the last three years and projections for the coming years. The rate was set at a 6.1 percent increase at about 2 percent per year for the next three years, Bowers said. In December the commission is expected to vote on the rate hike, which is proposed to help pay for new nuclear power plants and to keep up with the economy.