Coal Tattoo

In this Nov. 13, 2012 photograph, workers’ vehicles fill the parking lots at Mississippi Power’s Kemper County energy facility near DeKalb, Miss. The plant, still under construction, is designed to use a soft form of coal called lignite in a gasification process to generate power. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Earlier today, Southern Company’s Georgia Power announced another in a long line of retirements from the nation’s aging fleet of coal-fired power plants:

Georgia Power expects to request approval from the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to decertify and retire 15 coal- and oil-fired generating units totaling 2,061 megawatts (MW), the company announced today.

The request to decertify 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, will be included in Georgia Power’s updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) that will be filed with the PSC on Jan. 31.

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 said:

Several factors, including 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 units.

Additionally, the company 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.

And CEO Paul Powers added:

We recognize the significant impact that these retirements will have on the local communities and we took that into account when making these decisions. 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. 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 announcement reminded me of a recent Associated Press story, which the AP had dubbed “Southern’s Big Bet“:

In the woods of east Mississippi, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Co. is pouring billions of dollars into construction of a power plant that burns coal but would emit less carbon dioxide. It’s a response to looming federal limits on carbon emissions as regulators try to curtail global warming.

Each day, as 2,600 construction workers toil away at Plant Ratcliffe in Kemper County, the big bet becomes more expensive. The projected cost is at least $2.8 billion, almost half a billion dollars above original expectations, and some estimates say it will go higher.

Legal challenges brought by the Sierra Club have led regulators to block the company from billing customers for the costs so far, although Southern subsidiary Mississippi Power Co. got closer to that goal with a favorable lower court ruling earlier this month.


In this Nov. 13, 2012 photograph, the top of the crystallizers at the water treatment plant shows a project still in progress at Mississippi Power’s Kemper County energy facility near DeKalb, Miss. The plant, still under construction, is designed to use a soft form of coal called lignite in a gasification process to generate power. The project has come under legal challenge by the Mississippi Sierra Club. The environmental organization says the gasification technology is expensive and unproven. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

As the AP story explained, Southern CEO Thomas Fanning stands by the Kemper project:

We are the Saudi Arabia of coal — very high quality stuff. We’ve got to find a way to continue to preserve that important national energy resource to be used for the benefit of our citizens. What we’re doing here in Kemper County, I think, may be a way forward for coal in America. It is that important.

The Sierra Club, in a recent report, argued that the project’s “untested gasification technology, is behind schedule in both engineering and construction, and at less than fifty percent complete, is likely to see further delays and cost overruns.” Louie Miller, State Director of the Mississippi Sierra Club, said:

Sierra Club has fought this dirty, expensive, and unnecessary plant because in the end, Mississippi families and businesses will be forced to shell out, at present, $3.62 Billion dollars and rising, to build a plant that is already hundreds of millions over budget and is not guaranteed to work on day one. And once Mississippians start to pay, they will be paying for 40 years, even with cheaper, cleaner energy sources available. We knew this was a bad deal for Mississippi Power customers from the beginning. The Public Service Commission needs to step in and pull the plug before customers are made to foot the bill for Mississippi Power’s billion-dollar mistake.