Georgia Power says it plans to phase out 15 aging oil- and coal-fired power plants, totaling 2,061 MW, in a move touted by environmental groups as a win for renewable energy.
The cost to comply with existing and future environmental regulations, recent and forecasted economic conditions, and lower natural gas prices contributed to the decision to close these plants, according to Georgia Power, the state’s largest utility and the largest arm of mega energy company Southern Company.
President and CEO Paul Bowers says Georgia Power is diversifying its fuel portfolio to include nuclear, 21st century coal, natural gas, renewables and energy efficiency.
The company will request approval from the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to decertify and retire 13 of the plants in its updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that will be filed with the PSC on Jan. 31.
This includes units 3 and 4 at Plant Branch in Putnam County, units 1-5 at Plant Yates in Coweta County, units 1 and 2 at Plant McManus in Glynn County, and units 1-4 at Plant Kraft in Chatham County.
Units 3-4 at Branch, units 1-5 at Yates and units 1-3 at Kraft are coal-fired generating units. Kraft Unit 4 is oil- or natural gas-fired, and McManus units 1-2 are oil-fired.
Georgia Power says it will ask for decertification of the units, other than Kraft 1-4, by the April 16, 2015 effective date of the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) rule. It expects to seek a one-year extension of the MATS compliance date for Plant Kraft, and retire those units by April 16, 2016.
The PSC is expected to vote on the decertification request in the summer of 2013.
Additionally, Georgia Power says it will ask for decertification of Boulevard 2 and Boulevard 3 combustion turbine generating units in Savannah upon approval of the IRP, due to the costs to repair and operate the units.
It will also request that units 6 and 7 at Plant Yates switch from coal to natural gas. Additionally, Unit 1 at Plant McIntosh, near Savannah, will switch from Central Appalachian coal to Powder River Basin coal.
The company also announced that the conversion at Plant Mitchell Unit 3, in Albany, from coal to biomass cannot be completed before 2017, should it move forward, due to continued regulatory uncertainty 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 (pictured) and Wansley, are already in the process of installing additional environmental controls in order to comply with the MATS rule.
While it says it supports Georgia Power’s decision to take 15 plants offline, GreenLaw, which provides free legal assistance to environmental and community groups, says even after these units are decertified, Georgia Power will still operate more than 8,000MW of coal-fueled generating units that cause air and water pollution “spewing asthma-causing smog and heart attack-causing soot.”
GreenLaw also criticized Georgia Power’s decision to leave Plant Scherer intact, which the nonprofit says is the No. 1 producer of greenhouse gases in the US.
Sierra Club, meanwhile, called the move a “victory for clean air and public health,” and said Georgia Power’s decision to retire the plants shows that coal-fired power plants are no longer able to provide competitively priced electricity in the state.
The group says nationwide coal use is at its lowest levels in decades, and with Georgia Power’s announcement, 129 coal plants nationwide have been slated for retirement.
A September 2012 report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found utilities across the country could use combined heat and power to more cheaply replace a substantial portion of the coal-fired electric-generating capacity expected to retire in the near term.