Southern Company signs pact with EPA

Southern Company, the nation’s largest producer of electricity, has joined a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency partnership aimed at minimizing emissions of sulfur hexaflouride (SF6) – a gas used in electrical equipment critical to the safe transmission and distribution of electricity.

The EPA is launching its “SF6 Emissions Reduction Partnership for Electric Power Systems” at an event in Washington, D.C., today. Electric utilities must use SF6, one of six greenhouse gases thought to contribute to global climate change, in circuit breakers, gas-insulated substations and switchgear.

“Southern Company is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why we’re happy to be working with EPA in this partnership to track our SF6 usage and do what we can to minimize emissions,” said Dr. W. Robert Woodall, Southern Company’s vice president of environmental policy.

Through the voluntary EPA initiative, Southern Company will document and report SF6 emissions at its utility companies and develop plans to reduce those emissions. It also will work with the other 47 utilities that signed on to the partnership to share the most effective measures for lowering emissions.

Southern Company, which has nearly 3.8 million customers in the Southeast, estimates that it has about 1,000 pieces of equipment with SF6 that will be included in the EPA program. About 350,000 pounds of SF6 are either in the equipment or in inventory.

SF6 use in electrical equipment is vital because of its unique ability to insulate high-voltage equipment and prevent this equipment from “shorting out.” According to the EPA, the electric power industry purchases a significant portion – 80 percent – of the 7,500 metric tons of SF6 produced and used worldwide each year in distribution and transmission equipment.

“Southern Company’s decision to work with EPA to endeavor to reduce emissions of this extremely potent greenhouse gas demonstrates a true commitment to protecting the environment,” said Paul Stolpman, director of EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs.

Kathleen Hogan, director of EPA’s Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Division, added, “EPA applauds Southern Company as an industry leader for its efforts to reduce emissions of SF6. By joining with EPA in this new partnership, Southern Company is showing that protection of our global environment and good business can go hand-in-hand.”

Through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Climate Challenge Program, Southern Company has become an industry leader in voluntary reductions of emissions of carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas. In fact, over the past seven years, the company has reduced, avoided or offset nearly 23 million metric tons of CO2. Southern Company has been able to accomplish this, in part, by increasing its nuclear capacity, by expanding the use of high-efficiency, natural gas combined-cycle and co-generation facilities, and by capturing carbon dioxide through planting millions of trees. The company also is working closely with the DOE and others to develop new, cleaner and more efficient energy sources.

Promoting the use of electric vehicles is yet another way Southern Company is improving air quality. Through its corporate electric vehicle lease program – the largest in the United States – the company is leasing 400 EVs to employees over the next four years, bringing its total fleet to almost 600 by 2003. Compared to traditional combustion engine vehicles, EVs lower CO2 emissions by 35 percent.

Southern Company (NYSE: SO) is an international energy company with $35 billion in assets through regional utilities and operations around the world. It is the largest producer of electricity in the United States and one of the world’s largest independent power producers. Based in Atlanta, Southern Company is the parent firm of Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power, Mississippi Power and Savannah Electric. Through its Southern Energy Inc. subsidiary, Southern Company supplies electricity in 10 countries on four continents. It also provides energy-related marketing, trading and technical services and Southern LINC wireless telecommunications.