News | April 15, 2020

Nation’s last new coal plant proposal finally succumbs in Georgia

Along with other air pollutants harmful to human health and the environment, the now-cancelled Plant Washington would have produced the annual carbon pollution equivalent of about one million cars.

The end of the road has officially come for Plant Washington, a proposed new coal plant that would have been located in Sandersville, GA.

While scores of similar projects were canceled nationwide in recent years, Plant Washington remained a possibility on paper, as the developer sought extensions of expired construction permits. Now, however, the state permitting agency has formally revoked Plant Washington’s authority to proceed, putting an end to this unneeded and misguided project.

“As plans for all other new coal-fired power plants have been shelved in favor of cleaner, more affordable energy alternatives, this unnecessary, stalled project has finally collapsed under its own weight,” said SELC Senior Attorney Kurt Ebersbach. “Fortunately, Georgia has continued to forge a cleaner energy path while this proposal has languished. Now this chapter is officially closed.”

Plant Washington was originally proposed in 2008 by Power4Georgians, LLC, a consortium of non-profit electric membership corporations (EMCs). The members claimed that the 850-megawatt coal-fired power plant was needed to meet their projected growth in electricity demand.

Those projections never materialized, however, as electricity growth in Georgia flattened. Meanwhile, both natural gas and renewable energy sources like solar continued to decline in price, making coal-fired generation an increasingly uneconomic proposition. All of the participating EMCs ultimately ceased funding the project’s construction costs, which by some estimates would have exceeded $3 billion.

Despite having authorization to proceed since 2014, Plant Washington never laid the first brick. Power4Georgians twice sought 18-month extensions of its state-issued construction permit. While the Georgia Environmental Protection Division granted the first extension, it has now denied the second. According to the agency, the air permit and its amendments are now “revoked in their entirety.”

Plant Washington would have required thousands of gallons per day from the Oconee River to cool its facility. (©Blake Lipthratt)

In addition to the long outdated air permit, the facility’s wastewater discharge permit expired in 2015. Moreover, the business entity Power4Georgians was dissolved in 2017.

SELC successfully challenged the original air and water permits on behalf of the Fall Line Alliance for a Clean Environment, Altamaha Riverkeeper, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Working with these same groups, SELC opposed the requested permit extensions.

Since 2010, more than 170 proposed coal-fired power plants have been cancelled across the country amid changing economics and increasing recognition of the social costs of carbon emissions. Plant Washington was the last of these plants standing, however feebly. Its final demise closes the book on a planned boom in coal plant construction that would have locked Georgia into decades of increased carbon emissions.

Plant Washington would have produced the annual carbon pollution equivalent of about one million cars, along with many other pollutants of concern to human health. The plant’s wastewater discharges would have further contaminated the Ogeechee River, which is already burdened by mercury pollution. And the facility would have further stressed Georgia’s limited water resources by withdrawing millions of gallons per day from the Oconee River.