Company launches $4.5 million tree program

The Southern Company is planting 20 million trees on company land and other locations in a $4.5 million program designed to offset carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

“Trees act as natural filters. They absorb carbon dioxide, converting it to oxygen and storing the remaining carbon as wood fiber,” said Dr. W. Robert Woodall, The Southern Company’s vice president of environmental policy. “We think planting more trees is a cost-effective way to deal with carbon dioxide emissions.” (235K WAV sound)

The Southern Company (NYSE: SO) is the parent firm of five electric utilities: Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power, Mississippi Power and Savannah Electric. Other subsidiaries include Southern Electric International, Southern Communications Services, Southern Nuclear, Southern Company Services and Southern Development and Investment Group. The Southern Company’s common stock is one of the 20 most widely held corporate stocks in America.

The company supplies energy to a 120,000-square mile service territory spanning most of Georgia and Alabama, southeastern Mississippi and the panhandle of Florida — an area with a population of about 11 million. Through its Southern Electric International unit, The Southern Company also supplies electricity to customers in a number of other states and in England, Argentina, Chile, the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago.

The tree-planting program, which will continue through 2000, is based on the science of carbon sequestration — how trees store carbon. One important factor in carbon sequestration is how trees are used once they have matured and slowed their absorption of carbon dioxide. If dead trees are left to rot, some of the carbon again will be released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide and methane, meaning the carbon sequestration lasted only as long as the tree lived.

Therefore, the company will plant mostly pines that grow well in the Southeast and can be used for lumber when they mature, extending the carbon sequestration value. In two or three decades, the company also may earn some revenue from the sale of the trees, as will the owners of non-company land.

About $800,000 of the $4.5 million will pay for planting trees on company land. The rest will fund tree planting on non-company land throughout The Southern Company’s service territory. Non-company sites are being identified with the help of state forestry officials.

The Southern Company is spending an additional $200,000 to participate in an Edison Electric Institute tree-planting project. EEI is the electric utility’s major trade organization and has formed Utilitree Carbon Co., a nonprofit corporation for planting trees.

The company also is spending $300,000 to fund a carbon sequestration study by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, based in the rain forests of Panama. That study will help determine the exact amount of carbon stored by trees and attempt to place a dollar value on carbon sequestration.