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Southern Company
Finding Solutions to Watershed Issues Thorugh Effective Cooperation with Stakeholders

Southern Company is one of the largest electricity producers in the U.S., with more than 34,000 megawatts of electric generating capacity across the Southeast. The region’s population has exploded by 63% since 1970, and is projected to almost double by 2015. This growth has placed significant pressures on the availability and quality of regional water resources. Southern Company subsidiaries rely on water in the production of power in its hydroelectric projects. Coal, gas, oil, and nuclear plants also require large quantities of water for cooling and other purposes. In light of the increasing pressures, Southern Company recognized the importance of working cooperatively in the region to balance and meet competing demands for freshwater resources.

Southern Company is in the process of applying to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for new operating licenses for its hydroelectric projects on the Chattahoochee River. The river supports a wide diversity of uses, including other industries, recreation, municipal water treatment, and ecosystem functions. Southern Company is faced with the challenge of reaching agreement among river stakeholders on project operations that will allow the company to continue providing affordable and reliable energy to the growing region, while meeting the shared water needs of the community and the ecosystem. Southern Company has found that paying close attention to the interests of stakeholders and addressing resource agency issues can result in successful outcomes for the company and the community.

Because of the company’s attention to building relationships with key stakeholders, Endangered Species Act consultations with federal agencies resulted in a positive outcome. In addition, an agreement was reached with a major property owner to protect river tributaries and local NGOs agreed to a process to monitor water quality outside the relicensing proceedings.

Southern Company has learned that solving water problems cooperatively requires building trust among the parties and following a number of simple guidelines:

  • Establish clear ground rules and boundaries early in the process. Be prepared to be flexible, but stick to established guidelines. The regulatory framework often provides guidance, but it requires strong company discipline to contain the scope of the process to the relevant issues.
  • Do your internal homework by clarifying company goals, strategy and decision-making authority; and understanding the full range of facility issues.
  • Do your external homework by understanding interests and communicating clearly with stakeholders and regulators.

Module 3