Special to the Journal
ATLANTA, GA – In a victory for clean air and public health, Georgia Power announced today its plans to phase out 15 total aging coal and oil-burning units at Plant Branch, Plant Yates, and Plant Kraft as the utility prepares to begin its multi-year planning process at the Georgia Public Service Commission later this month. Nationwide, coal use is at its lowest levels in decades as cleaner sources of energy are declining in price and coal is becoming more expensive, and with today’s announcement, 129 coal plants nationwide have been slated for retirement. Although Georgia Power has been slow to invest in clean energy generation to meet Georgia’s energy needs, today’s announcement demonstrates that coal-fired power plants are no longer able to provide competitively priced electricity in the Peach State.
“Georgia families will be breathing easier now that some of the state’s oldest and largest polluters will be phased out,” said Seth Gunning, Beyond Coal Organizer with the Georgia Sierra Club. “Georgia Power’s decision to phase out nearly one quarter of their dirty, eighteenth century technology is good for families and good for their customers. If the company chooses to replace this capacity with home-grown, twenty-first century energy technology like solar and wind, their decision will also be good for Georgia jobs. Moving beyond coal and oil is the right decision for Georgia Power.”
In March of 2012, the Georgia Public Service Commission approved Georgia Power’s request to retire two coal-burning units at Plant Branch in Putnam County. Georgia Power announced today that it will retire the two remaining coal-burning units at Plant Branch, and will phase out use of the plant over several years. Plant Branch has loomed above Lake Oconee and the surrounding communities for decades; phasing out the plant will significantly reduce air pollution in Putnam County and the surrounding communities.
“As a shareholder, I’m pleased that Georgia Power is phasing out a quarter of their aging, increasingly expensive to operate, coal-fired plants. Georgia Power’s own analysis showed that there was no future for the plants. Shareholders will benefit from a less risky, less water-intensive portfolio that emphasizes energy efficiency, solar, and wind. Customers will benefit too,” said Sam Booher, Chair of the Savannah River Sierra Club group.
Georgia Power, the state’s largest utility and the largest arm of Southern Company, has been analyzing the economics of its coal plants across the state for years in preparation for the company’s next ten-year energy planning process, which starts in January of 2013. Georgia Power’s own analysis showed that the Branch, Kraft, and Yates coal plants are all too expensive to operate in comparison to cleaner, less water-intensive forms of energy such as solar and geothermal power. Plant Yates, in Coweta County, GA, was found to be the most expensive coal plant for unchecked social costs in a 2012 report from the Environmental Integrity Project. The report found that the social cost of premature mortality caused by pollution from Plant Yates was between $450 million and $1.4 billion greater than the value of the electricity it generated.
“While these retirements are an important step toward a twenty-first century energy economy for Georgia, we are disappointed that Georgia Power is asking coastal Georgians to bear additional years of coal pollution. Delaying the phase out of Plant Kraft a year will mean more mercury in coastal blackwater rivers, where contamination problems are already the most severe. The switch to Western coal at Plant McIntosh may mean the plant runs far more than it does now, creating far more pollution impacting local communities,” said Colleen Kiernan, Sierra Club’s Georgia Chapter Director. “Coastal Georgians deserve cleaner air and water, too.”
The United States Environmental Protection Agency recently updated key public health protections under the landmark Clean Air Act, which has saved thousands of lives and generated $2 trillion in health and economic benefits since it was passed in 1970. The coal-fired power plants announced for retirement today all lack modern pollution controls, including technology to reduce sulfur dioxide pollution, which forms smog, and contribute to premature deaths, asthma attacks, and other serious illness. Georgia Power will seek approval to phase out these coal plants from the Georgia Public Service Commission.
The Beyond Coal campaign was launched in 2002, and in partnership with allied groups across the country, the Sierra Club has prevented 174 new coal plants from being built and has secured the planned retirement of 129 plants. Learn more at beyondcoal.org.