Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plant Cancelled in Georgia

ATLANTA, Georgia, April 10, 2012 (ENS) – Clean air advocates and environmental groups won a victory Monday when the utility consortium Power4Georgians agreed to cancel its proposal to build a coal-fired power plant near Fitzgerald in Ben Hill County, Georgia.

In exchange, the groups will not pursue their objections to another coal-burning power plant proposed by Power4Georgians – Plant Washington near Sandersville in Washington County. The consortium also agreed to comply with new safeguards against mercury pollution and invest $5 million in energy efficiency and renewable projects.

The agreement clears the way for Power4Georgians to obtain final design, construction and operating permits for the 850-megawatt $2.1 billion Plant Washington.

The Sierra Club, the Fall Line Alliance for a Clean Environment, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center and GreenLaw, successfully challenged the permit for Plant Washington issued by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

The settlement agreement is pending approval by each of the groups.

Ben Hill County Courthouse in Fitzgerald, Georgia (Photo by whenlostin)

“This is a day to celebrate. Plant Ben Hill would have been deeply detrimental to Ben Hill County and south Georgia,” said Laura Norris, a founding member of the Wiregrass Energy Network, a citizens group opposing Plant Ben Hill. “It would have created very few permanent jobs while polluting water and air and harming health for many years.”

The agreement appears to have satisfied both the consortium of electric membership corporations, EMCs, seeking to build the plant and the organizations that challenged the project.

“This is very exciting news for the participating EMCs,” Dean Alford, spokesman for Power4Georgians, told the “Atlanta Business Journal.”

“From day one, we have worked to meet both the state and federal regulations,” said Alford, and to “address the issues raised by the citizens of Washington County and across the state.”

Power4Georgians is a consortium of four electric membership cooperatives in Georgia; six additional EMCs have left the consortium citing cost concerns.

Cobb EMC, the largest and most prominent investor in Power4Georgians, withdrew funding and support for the consortium and the Plant Washington proposal in January.

While financing of Plant Washington is a hurdle for Power4Georgians, it is by no means the only one.

“Plant Washington continues to lack a complete and legally effective permit that authorizes construction, and it won’t have one until the mercury permit amendment is issued, which will take another 30 days at least,” said Kurt Ebersbach, staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represented several of the challenging groups.

“Based on filings by Power4Georgians in this case, it is clear that they have not done engineering, selected the boilers, lined up investors, or met any of the criteria that EPA is looking at to exempt a new source from complying with the carbon pollution rule,” Ebersbach said.

“Before we challenged the permit, Plant Washington was going to send 40 times more mercury into our air and water each year, endangering our most vulnerable citizens,” said Colleen Kiernan, director of the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We knew the law was on our side, we challenged Power4Georgians, and now Georgia’s air, water, and people will be protected.”

In addition, Plant Washington faces the challenge of complying with the U.S. EPA’s proposed carbon emissions standard for new coal-fired power plants, which will require new coal plants to reduce or capture their harmful carbon emissions.

Power4Georgians had not considered carbon capture technology in the original Plant Washington proposal.

In the rule, the EPA identified Plant Washington as a potential “transitional” source whereby it could be exempt from the rule if there is a final permit and construction commences within a year after the rule is published. Publication of the carbon pollution rule is expected later in April.

Plant Washington is expected to take four years to build, create up to 1,600 professional construction and skilled trade jobs and generate over $250 million in total labor wages and benefits, according to Power4Georgians. When complete, Plant Washington is expected to create between 120 and 130 new full-time jobs onsite as well as 200 to 300 new secondary jobs in supporting businesses and industries.

The cancellation of Plant Ben Hill marks 168 total coal plant proposals cancelled across the United States due to changing market conditions, legal challenges, and local opposition, according to the Sierra Club.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.