More coal plants coming offline

THE New Year is barely a week old, but the pressure of environmental regulations has resulted in 15 planned power plant unit closures, most of them coal-fired, by Georgia Power.
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Georgia Power's Plant McManus. Photo: Courtesy Georgia Power

Donna Schmidt

This announcement follows one by Wisconsin Public Services yesterday that it would be idling units at two of its plants.

Georgia Power said it had sought approval from the Georgia Public Service Commission to decertify and retire the units, which total 2061 megawatts of power. It will submit an Integrated Resource Plan with the PSC on January 31.

The coal units include Branch 3 and 4 in Putnam County, Yates 1-5 in Coweta County, and Kraft 1-3 in Chatham County.

The remainder, including units 1 and 2 at McManus in Glynn County and Kraft Unit 4, are oil- or natural gas-fired.

Georgia Power officials said the decertification requests were for April 16, 2015, the effective date of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics (MAT) rule.

At its Kraft units 1-4, the company will seek a one-year extension of the MATS compliance date and retire the group by April 16, 2016.

At Yates, GP wants to request units 6 and 7 be switched from coal to natural gas, and McIntosh Unit 1 converted from central Appalachian coal to Powder River Basin coal.

The fuel switches are the result of the company's evaluation of the MATS rule, other existing and expected environmental regulations, and economic analyses, it said.

The PSC is expected to conduct its decertification vote during the forthcoming northern summer.

At the same time, upon the approval of the IRP, GP will request decertification of its Boulevard 2 and Boulevard 3 combustion turbine generating units in Savannah because of the costs to repair and operate the units.

“These decisions were made after extensive analysis and are necessary in order for us to maintain our commitment to provide the most reliable and affordable electricity to our customers,” GP president and chief executive officer Paul Bowers said.

“We are in the midst of a significant transition in our fleet that will result in a more diverse fuel portfolio – including nuclear, 21st century coal, natural gas, renewables and energy efficiency – to ensure we maintain our commitment for generations to come.”

The company’s planned conversion at Mitchell 3 in Albany, scheduled to transfer from coal-fire to biomass, cannot be completed before 2017 if it advances at all.

Again, officials cited continued regulatory uncertainty for the move, this time related to the Industrial Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule and other EPA rules.

“The rest of Georgia Power's coal-fired fleet, including the units at plants Bowen, Hammond, Scherer and Wansley, are already in the process of installing additional environmental controls in order to comply with the MATS rule,” GP officials confirmed.

“Georgia Power will continue to evaluate existing and expected federal and state environmental rules involving air emissions, water treatment, coal ash and gypsum to determine the economics of taking actions to comply with environmental regulations on generating units at Georgia Power plants.”

Georgia Power operates 11,387MW of coal-fueled generation at 10 plants across Georgia. In all, the company has 18,623MW of capacity, including nuclear, natural gas and hydro generation.

Not surprisingly the Sierra Club viewed the phase outs as “a victory for clean air and public health”

“As a shareholder I’m pleased that Georgia Power is phasing out a quarter of their aging, increasingly expensive to operate, coal-fired plants,” Savannah river Sierra Club chairman Sam Booher said.

“Georgia Power’s own analysis showed that there was no future for the plants,” he said.

“Shareholders will benefit from a less risky, less water-intensive portfolio that emphasizes energy efficiency, solar and wind. Customers will benefit too.”

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