Washington Plant

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This article is part of the Coal Issues portal on SourceWatch, a project of CoalSwarm and the Center for Media and Democracy. See here for help on adding material to CoalSwarm.

On January 23, 2008, POWER4Georgians - a consortium of ten Georgia electric membership cooperatives (EMC) (Central Georgia EMC, Cobb EMC, Diverse Power, Excelsior EMC, GreyStone Power, Jackson EMC, Pataula EMC, Snapping Shoals EMC, Upson EMC, and Washington EMC) - announced plans to build a $2 billion, 850-MW supercritical coal plant in Washington County, Georgia. Applications for air permits were filed with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) in January.[1]

On January 24, 2012, the Cobb Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) board of directors voted to stop funding the Power4Georgians proposed coal plant projects, Washington Plant and Ben Hill Plant, in Central Georgia.[2] On April 10, 2012, Power4Georgians, the only company still pursuing the new plants, agreed to cancel the Ben Hill Plant. The company also agreed to comply with updated regulations on mercury pollution for the Washington Plant and invest $5 million in energy efficiency and renewable projects if the plant is built. The Washington Plant would also have to meet updated EPA carbon pollution rules for new coal-fired power plants.[3]

Project Details

Sponsor: POWER4Georgians
Location: Sandersville, Washington County, Georgia
Capacity: 850 MW
Type: Supercritical
Status: Cancelled

Plant Washington: Coal vs. Water

2008 - 2011: Permits Challenged

In February and March 2008, a coalition of state environmental organizations and student environmental groups - led by CLEANPower4Georgians, itself a coalition of several groups - began organizing EMC ratepayers to oppose the new plant proposal.[4]

According to the Sierra Club, as of July 2008, the Georgia EPD has yet to issue a draft permit.[5]

In early March 2009, the Georgia EPD held a Question & Answer session for the proposed plant. The EPD indicated that it would not issue a draft air permit until after the GA Court of Appeals rules on Longleaf by the end of July 2009.[6]

In May 2009, Jackson EMC and Diverse Power announced they had left Power4Georgians because of the uncertainty over carbon emissions regulations. GreyStone Power and Excelsior EMC also withdrew in May.[7]

Just one day before the withdrawals began, the Institute for Southern Studies released a report about possible corruption related to the project. In April 2009, law enforcement officers searched the homes of top officials with Cobb Electric Membership Corp. A grand-jury investigation is underway into charges of theft from Cobb EMC via a spin-off corporation called Cobb Energy. Dwight Brown, the CEO of both Cobb EMC and Cobb Energy and also the founder and manager of POWER4Georgians, is among those under investigation. The ISS report also cited the questionable hiring of a fully-owned subsidiary of Cobb Energy to construct the $2.2 billion plant. Subsidiary Allied Energy Services received the contract with no competitive bidding process, in spite of the fact that it has no experience building coal plants.[8]

On August 25, 2009, POWER4Georgians announced that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division had issued several draft permits for the Washington plant, including the air permit, surface water withdrawal permit, groundwater withdrawal permit, and water discharge permit.[9]

On October 27, 2009, GreenLaw and Southern Environmental Law Center submitted comments on the draft permits for the Washington Plant on behalf of environmental groups. The comments highlighted several deficiencies with the plant's draft air permits, including an inadequate best available control technology (BACT) analysis and lack of stringent limits for several air pollutants. The groups also argued that the draft water permits failed to properly analyze the Washington plant's impacts on ground and surface waters.[10]

On April 8, 2010, the Environmental Protection Division issued final permits for operation of the Plant, green-lighting construction.[11]

On May 9, 2010, the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE), Sierra Club’s Georgia Chapter, the Altamaha Riverkeeper, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), and Ogeechee Riverkeeper, filed claims against the water and air pollution permits proposed for the plant. The groups claimed the Plant Washington air permit fails to set safe limits on harmful air pollutants, including sulfuric acid mist and particulate matter, and that the state water withdrawal permit fails to set necessary limits on the amount of water the plant can take from the Oconee River near the Ogeechee River watershed, which communities such as Dublin, area farms, and other downstream users depend upon. In addition, the groups say the state water discharge permit fails to limit the temperature of heated wastewater discharged by the proposed plant into the Oconee River, changing the river’s ecology, depleting available oxygen in its waters, and harming fish and other wildlife that depend on the river system. [12]

On July 26, 2010 Administrative Law Judge Ronit Walker rejected two water permits for the Washington coal-fired power plant in Sandersville, GA. The permits were issued by Georgia's Department of Environmental Protection. "Taking on average 13.5 million gallons per day out of the Oconee River and pumping into a plant in the Ogeechee River basin and transferring the 11-percent left over, she found that fell within the type of activities known as Interbasin transfer," said Brian Gist, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law center.[13] Interbasin transfer should have triggered additional reviews required under state law.[14]

In September 2010, a coalition of environmental groups asked state Judge Ronit Walker to strike down an air permit that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division approved for Plant Washington in April. The environmental groups backing the legal challenge said the state-issued permit to develop Plant Washington does not require the plant to use the best available controls to protect against the creation of sulfuric acid mist. The groups also faulted state regulators for failing to take into account fugitive emissions, or fine debris from sources other than the plant's smokestack, and said the state relied on bad climate data when it analyzed a model of potential air pollution from the plant. Diane DeShazo, a senior assistant attorney general, said Georgia's environmental regulators were within the law when they approved the permits for Plant Washington, as regulators in Georgia have set extremely low emission rates for two major plant pollutants, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.[15]

On December 16, 2010, state Administrative Law Judge Ronit Walker rejected an air permit that would allow construction of the plant, ruling that state environmental regulators must reconsider the permit because it failed to set limits on hazardous pollutants and harmful emissions from the plant. Environmental groups had challenged the permit issued by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, arguing that it didn't force Plant Washington to use the most effective controls to protect against sulfuric acid mist and didn't do enough to curb other hazardous pollutants.[16]

On June 6, 2011, a settlement for the water discharge portion of the permits would require the Washington Plant to limit and monitor its emissions of hot water into the Oconee River, curtailing water discharges of more than 5 degrees above the ambient river temperature or hotter than 90 degrees. The agreement ends one legal dispute between the plant's developer and environmental groups. Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Brian Gist said the agreement will set the strictest limits on thermal discharges for any coal plant in Georgia.[17]

On August 17, 2011, Power for Georgians said the plant will tighten its air permits per a court order, polluting less toxic metals and carbon monoxide. Federal regulators are scheduled to issue stricter standards for those pollutants and mercury in November 2011, leading environmental groups to say the plant won’t be in compliance with the new proposed rules. Dean Alford with Power for Georgians said they won’t address the new mercury rule until it is finalized.[18]

On November 21, 2011, Georgia environmental regulators announced they were giving the final go-ahead for construction of the plant. The Environmental Protection Division (EPD) re-issued the final air-quality permit for the project after the applicant, Power4Georgians, made changes required by an administrative law judge. Kurt Ebersbach, senior attorney with Atlanta-based GreenLaw, one of several environmental groups opposing the project, said he had not seen the new permit because it hadn’t been posted on the EPD website. Parties wishing to appeal the permit have 30 days to file objections.[19]

On January 24, 2012, the Cobb Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) board of directors voted to stop funding the Power4Georgians proposed coal plant projects, Washington Plant and Ben Hill Plant, in Central Georgia.[20] On April 10, 2012, Power4Georgians, the only company still pursuing the new plants, agreed to cancel the Ben Hill Plant. The company also agreed to comply with updated regulations on mercury pollution for the Washington Plant and invest $5 million in energy efficiency and renewable projects if the plant is built.[21]

Power4Georgian organizer Dwight Brown indicted

In January 2011, Dwight Brown, Chief Executive of Cobb EMC and the organizer of Power4Georgians, was first indicted by the Cobb County District Attorney for theft and racketeering. Cobb EMC was already embroiled in litigation questioning the EMC's financial accountability to its members. Questions have also been raised about Cobb EMC’s involvement in the proposed construction of two coal-fired power plants - Washington Plant and the Ben Hill Plant - which could cost over $4 billion. As CEO of Cobb EMC and of Cobb Energy, Brown organized Power4Georgians, a corporation with five other EMCs, to build and operate the two coal-fired plants.[22]

Four of the original ten EMCs pulled out of Brown’s Plant Washington project, citing high cost concerns, but under Dwight Brown's leadership, Cobb EMC proceeded. During the hearing on the Plant Washington air permit in October 2010, Dean Alford of Power4Georgians testified that Power4Georgians received a no-bid contract to develop the proposed coal-fired power plant. According to the Marietta Daily Journal, “the indictment alleges that Brown used Cobb Electric Membership Corporation as a piggybank to fund various operations and activities of Cobb Energy without approval by the cooperative’s members, as required in EMC’s bylaws.” It is estimated that the development of Plant Washington has cost $27 million to date, of which Cobb EMC paid a significant portion that has never been approved by the coop’s members.[22]

Katherine Cummings, Director of the Fall-Line Alliance for Clean Energy (FACE) and a customer of Washington County EMC, a member of Power4Georgians, wondered, “Will Washington EMC be able to get its rate-payers’ money back from Dwight Brown’s Plant Washington scheme?”[22]

On July 7, 2011, Brown was re-indicted by a Cobb County grand jury on 35 counts that include racketeering, making false statements and theft. The first indictment in January was thrown out on a technicality. Brown resigned in February as part of a settlement agreement between the co-op and suing customers.[23]

February, 2011 Coal moratorium bill proposed

House Bill 276, proposed by Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), would put a 5-year moratorium on building new coal plants and eliminate the burning of Appalachian coal mined by mountaintop removal by mid-2016. The Appalachian Mountain Preservation Act would gradually prohibit Georgia coal consumers from using Central Appalachian mountaintop removal beginning in 2011. The bill is backed by environmental groups including Appalachian Voices but received strong opposition from POWER4Georgians, the group behind the Washington plant.[24][25] The bill did not emerge from committee. Its sponsor, Mary Margaret Oliver, was honored June 1 with a Georgia Conservation Legacy Award at a ceremony for efforts in 2011 on the bill board legislation, coal fire plant reform, and amendments to reservoir legislation. [26]

June, 2011 Georgia Watch report: Plant to raise rates 10-20 percent

Consumer advocacy group Georgia Watch released a report, “Power4Georgians Plant Washington Coal-Fired Power Plant: Too High a Price for Consumers”, saying Plant Washington would raise electric bills 10-20 percent in the first year depending on which electric member cooperative (EMC) customers receive electricity from, as opposed to an expected two percent increase in the absence of the plant.

According to the report, electricity customers in Georgia would feel the impact of Plant Washington in the following ways:

  • During the first year of operation, the average electric rate increase would be 16 percent, eight times higher than what consumers might normally expect. Depending upon where consumers live, the annual increase would range from $165 to $240.
  • During the early years of Plant Washington’s coal-fired operation, consumers can expect at least an additional $50.00 annual charge to pay for the cost of new carbon regulations.
  • Considering the full impact of future energy regulation, the costs of Plant Washington could raise annual prices by an estimated $258 per year for the average household.

Water use from plant

A 2011 Union of Concerned Scientists report, "Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource," calculated the available water in every major watershed in the U.S. and measured that against the water used by power plants in each watershed. The report found that Plant Washington is just downstream from an area that is already stressed by massive water withdrawals, bringing into question whether there is adequate water for the proposed new plant, which would also withdraw water from the Oconee, along with other downstream users.[27]

Citizen Groups

Resources

References

  1. "Co-ops Propose $2 Billion Coal-Fired Plant in Georgia", Reuters UK, Jan. 24, 2008.
  2. "Decade-Long Georgia Coal Rush Almost Over: Utility Withdraws New Coal Financing, Following National Trend of Coal Losing Market Share to Clean Energy" Sierra Club, January 25, 2012.
  3. "Proposed Ben Hill Coal Plant Cancelled: Power4Georgians in Tenuous Position on Plant Washington After Legal Agreement," Sierra Club Press Release, April 10, 2012.
  4. "Group Will Help EMC Fight Plant", Athens Banner-Herald, Mar. 24, 2008.
  5. "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club, accessed November 2008. (This is a Sierra Club list of new coal plant proposals.)
  6. "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club, accessed May 2009. (This is a Sierra Club list of new coal plant proposals.)
  7. David Markiewicz, "2 more co-ops drop out of coal plant group," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 19, 2009.
  8. Sue Sturgis "Ga. utilities pull out of coal plant project that faces questions of corruption," May 21, 2009.
  9. EPD Issues Draft Permits, POWER4Georgians, August 25, 2009.
  10. "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club, accessed December 2009. (This is a Sierra Club list of new coal plant proposals.)
  11. Brandon Wilson,"Ga. OKs Plant Washington construction" The Marietta Daily Journal, April 9, 2010.
  12. "Legal Challenges Filed to Stop Georgia's Coal Rush" Sustainable Business.com, May 11, 2010.
  13. "Judge Rejects Permits For Coal Plant" PBA Online, July 26, 2010.
  14. Ray Henry, "Judge strikes permits for proposed Ga. coal plant" Bloomsberg BusinessWeek, July 27, 2010.
  15. Ray Henry, "Environmental groups fight Ga. coal power plant" Bloomberg, Sep. 13, 2010.
  16. Greg Bluestein, "Judge rejects permit for proposed Ga. power plant" Macon.com, Dec. 16, 2010.
  17. "Deal puts limits on hot water from Georgia coal plant," Associated Press, June 10, 2011.
  18. "EPD Revises New Coal Plant Permit" GPB News, August 17, 2011.
  19. Dave Williams, "Coal power plant gets green light" Atlanta Business Chronicle, Nov. 21, 2011.
  20. "Decade-Long Georgia Coal Rush Almost Over: Utility Withdraws New Coal Financing, Following National Trend of Coal Losing Market Share to Clean Energy" Sierra Club, January 25, 2012.
  21. "Proposed Ben Hill Coal Plant Cancelled: Power4Georgians in Tenuous Position on Plant Washington After Legal Agreement," Sierra Club Press Release, April 10, 2012.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 "Brown Indictment & Coal Plant Financial Concerns: Financial Concerns about Coal Plants Spread as Cobb EMC Chief Dwight Brown Is Indicted Brown’s Business Schemes Included Power4Georgians" cleanenergy.org, January 7, 2011.
  23. Kristi E. Swartz and Janel Davis "Former Cobb EMC chief re-indicted on theft, racketeering"Atlanta Journal and Constitution, July 7, 2011.
  24. "Georgia bill proposes moratorium on new coal plants," Reuters, February 4, 2009.
  25. Margaret Newkirk, "Bill would restrict coal power plants," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 4, 2009.
  26. "Rep. Oliver Receives 2011 Conservation Legacy Award" Decatur Patch, June 7, 2011.
  27. Averyt, K., J. Fisher, A. Huber-Lee, A. Lewis, J. Macknick, N. Madden, J. Rogers, and S. Tellinghuisen, "Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource," The Union of Concerned Scientists' Energy and Water in a Warming World initiative, November 2011 Report.

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