Jul 2, 2019

Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning on renewables, cybersecurity and more

Tom Fanning, CEO of Southern Company, one of America’s biggest utility companies, sat down with me at last week’s Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado.

What he said: "If your objective is to put a price on carbon to manipulate carbon I don’t think that makes sense. If somebody says to me, ‘we have a gigantic federal deficit, and we need to raise taxes.’ Does a carbon tax make sense? Yeah I’d be more amenable to that conversation. That means I’m going to tax something in order to raise revenue. Taxing something to change behavior, there’s better ways to do that."

On renewables, which have grown from 1% of Southern’s mix in 2007 to 11% in 2018 (with much of that being solar), Fanning predicts renewables to reach 50% or higher by 2050.

  • When I commented that environmentalists have been pushing far more aggressive goals, Fanning replied: "Maybe we will get to 80% renewables. If you’re going to go that far you’re going to have to have significant storage technology."

On cybersecurity, an issue Fanning works on with the government, Fanning said: "The existential threat goes to the ability for, probably, a nation state … that likely would be China, Russia, North Korea and Iran to interrupt American commerce. To prevent, making, moving or selling electricity, and prevent undertaking of electronic commerce and communicating.”

  • What are the chances of that happening, I asked. "Low," Fanning responded." We have a very resilient system: Physically resilient and I think cyber resilient."

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