Washington County Coal Plant (GA)

In 2012, Power4Georgians agreed to shelve plans for a new coal plant in Ben Hill; strengthen limits on pollution from Plant Washington; and invest millions in energy efficiency.

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A Bad Idea For Georgians

Since 2010, SELC has been working with a coalition of conservation, clean energy, and faith organizations to prevent a proposed 850-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Washington County, Georgia from becoming a reality. The plant is proposed by Power4Georgians, LLC, which was originally a consortium of non-profit electric membership corporations (EMCs) interested in developing the project.  However, all of the EMCs have ceased funding the project, and with construction costs projected to exceed $2 billion, there is no indication that the facility has the necessary financing to proceed.

In fact, despite having legal authorization to proceed for over two years, the facility has not laid the first brick.  The lack of activity has forced Power4Georgians to seek an eighteen month extension of its state-issued construction permit.  But the extension is not likely to help Plant Washington’s sagging fortunes because natural gas prices remain low and the costs of clean energy alternatives continue to decline.  Indeed, some of the EMCs originally affiliated with Power4Georgians recently announced deals to purchase cost-effective solar energy.

Even though Plant Washington is not remotely on the verge of commencing construction, that has not stopped Power4Georgians from arguing that the facility should be exempt from EPA’s proposed limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants.  SELC has submitted comments to EPA explaining why, given the lack of construction activity, it would be improper to consider Plant Washington anything other than a new source of carbon pollution.

A Significant Source of Pollution

If built, Plant Washington would produce the carbon pollution equivalent of about one million cars annually.  And that carbon pollution would come packaged with many other pollutants of concern to human health in a county already suffering from high levels of air pollution. Mercury from the plant would further contaminate the Ogeechee River, which is already so polluted with mercury that the state health department limits the amount of fish that should be eaten from it. The plant would also stress Georgia’s limited water resources by consuming 13.5 million gallons per day from the Oconee River.

Dead Plant Walking

Over 170 proposed U.S. coal-fired power plants have been canceled since 2010 due to the changing economic and regulatory circumstances surrounding coal.  Plant Washington is one of just two plants still purportedly under development that have no plans to control carbon emissions.

The EMCs once asserted that Plant Washington would be necessary to meet their projected growth in electricity demand. They cannot make that claim now.  Load growth projections for Georgia are flat or declining and the state’s largest utility, Georgia Power Company, has large excess capacity even after a wave of planned coal plant retirements.  Georgia Power’s recent capacity additions have taken advantage of cheap abundant natural gas and increasingly cost-effective solar and wind energy.  The utility has no plans to build new coal plants. 

The EMCs are non-profit entities charged with acting in the best interest of their members.  Making an enormous investment in a new coal plant is simply not in the best of interest of the EMC members as an economic matter ― and that’s without even considering the substantial public health and environmental impacts.  If Plant Washington is ever built, the electricity it produces will be among the most expensive options available to the EMCs, assuming they even have a need for additional energy.  

Georgia is already making progress toward better long-term energy solutions.  The state has made significant recent investments in renewable clean energy sources such as solar and wind.  These investments are producing more local jobs than a highly automated plant burning dirty imported fuel. Additional investments in energy efficiency would produce similar benefits at an even lower cost, while helping all Georgians save on their energy bills. Georgia does not need Plant Washington, a bad idea whose time has come. 

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