Two Down, One to Go: Another Georgia Coal Plant Bites the Dust

In a major win for Georgia’s ratepayers and our air and water, Power4Georgians (P4G), the consortium of four utility co-ops behind the last two proposed coal-fired power plants in Georgia, agreed yesterday to cancel Plant Ben Hill, which was to be built near Fitzgerald, Georgia. Additionally, the co-ops still backing the proposed Plant Washington will invest $5 million in energy savings and renewable programs over five years. Moreover, if Plant Washington is ever constructed, it will be the first new plant in the Southeast required to meet EPA’s new public health regulations for mercury emissions. The agreement leaves Plant Washington, now one of the last remaining coal plant proposals in the country, on more tenuous footing than ever.

The victory is part of a proposed settlement offered to SACE and our allies as a result of a joint-appeal of the state Environmental Protection Division’s (EPD) air permit for Plant Washington. Before we challenged the permit, a future Plant Washington would have emitted 40 times the amount of mercury than EPA regulations would allow. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that impairs brain development, particularly in babies and young children.

Furthermore, if the settlement is approved by all partner groups, P4G will not have a final permit in hand until its amended permit application goes through EPD’s public comment process, which will take at least 30 days. Meanwhile, EPA has announced new rules on new sources of carbon pollution which would apply to Plant Washington unless it can secure a final permit before the rules are officially published and begin construction within one year of that date. We expect those new rules to be published later this month.

Plant Washington is not designed to capture its carbon emissions, so meeting the newly proposed rules could be a deal-beaker for the plant. As Kurt Ebersbach, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, pointed out, even if they did receive the permit in time, it is unlikely that construction could begin.

“Based on filings by Power4Georgians in this case, it is clear that they have not done engineering, selected the boilers, lined up investors, or met any of the criteria that EPA is looking at to exempt a new source from complying with the carbon pollution rule.”

SACE believes the agreement sends a message to those who continue to support Plant Washington: you can’t ignore the public health costs of dirty energy sources any more. We hope the remaining EMCs involved in Plant Washington will look into cleaner, cheaper ways to provide electricity to their members.

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