On Monday Georgia Power joined a growing list of power companies across the country that have asked permission to close plants as a result of Environmental Protection Agency regulations that make the mostly coal-fired plants to costly to keep open.
Georgia Power requested permission to close 15 plants; ten coal-fired, three that are fueled by a combination of oil and natural gas, and two that are oil only. The closures will mean a reduction of 2,061 megawatts of energy to Georgia consumers, higher electricity rates, and the loss of up to 480 jobs.
A Reuters report identified Putnam County, Coweta County, Glynn County and Chatham County as the plant locations facing unit closures. Chatham County has two plants, and both face shutdown.
In an interview with the Athens Banner Herald Mark Williams, a spokesperson for Georgia Power, says “The plan now is to achieve all these reductions either through attrition or relocation.” Georgia Power cited the new set of mercury regulations as key to the closures. Williams said the new laws makes the plants “too expensive to operate.”
The first round of shutdowns would include eleven plants and take place on April 16, 2015 -the effective date of the Mercury and Air Toxics rule. Waivers are being sought for the remaining four plants that would postpone their closure until 2016.
While there will be a negative impact on the economy in the communities where these plants will be closing, those that support the new regulations argue that this forces the power companies to upgrade what they consider is an antiquated, dirty form of energy and will result in both cost and health savings at some unspecified future date .
Seth Gunning, the Georgia Sierra Club Beyond Coal organizer, said in his statement that “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.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental solutions group that believes coal-fired units should be closed, issued a statement through Steve Frenkel:
“It’s good news that Georgia Power plans to close these coal-fired units. Georgia leads the nation with the most coal-fired energy generating capacity that should be considered for closure. Our analysis indicated that it would likely be less expensive for the company to burn natural gas or use wind power to generate electricity than to invest in their obsolete coal plants. It’s good news for Georgia consumers that Georgia Power realized that spending billions to upgrade old coal plants may simply be throwing good money after bad,” the director of the UCS Midwest office went on “Burning coal is no longer the cheapest way to produce electricity. Going forward, natural gas, wind power and other renewables, as well as investments in energy efficiency, are all better options for consumers.”
Paul Bowers, president and CEO of Georgia Power, said that moving forward the company will have “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.”
While the future benefits of the closures remains cloudy, the hit to the economy now in jobs and energy costs increases is crystal clear. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity commissioned a study by the National Economic Research Associates that projects power companies will shut down between 54,000 and 69,000 megawatts of coal-fueled electricity generation by 2017, mainly as a result of the EPA regulations. Shutdowns at that level would result in an estimated 1.5 million jobs lost over the next four years.