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EPA Rule Could Put Out 15 GA Plants

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

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More than a dozen power plants in Georgia could be out of commission soon after the approval of a new federal rule regulating mercury and toxic air goes into effect, the utility says.

Georgia Power has announced that it will request approval from the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to decertify and retire 15 generating units.

The company plans to ask for 11 of the plants to be decertified by the April 16, 2015, effective date of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) rule. The utility also plans 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 this summer.

Photos: Georgia Power

Georgia Power says it cannot economically run 15 of its plants under a new EPA rule.

'Significant Impact'

The coal-, oil-, and natural gas-fired power plants produce a total of over 2,000 megawatts of electricity; it is unclear how the Georgia energy sector will make up the power.

"We recognize the significant impact that these retirements will have on the local communities, and we took that into account when making these decisions," said Paul Bowers, president and CEO of Georgia Power.

"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," Bowers said.

Compliance costs of current and future environmental regulations, economic conditions, and low natural gas prices were all factors for the shutdowns, the company said.

Other Rules Under Study

The company said it will continue to evaluate existing and expected federal and state environmental rules involving air emissions, water treatment, coal ash, and gypsum to determine the economics of taking actions to comply with environmental regulations.

Georgia Power said it would file an updated Integrated Resource Plan with PSC on Jan. 31 that wil include the request to decertify units 3 and 4 at Plant Branch; units 1-5 at Plant Yates; units 1 and 2 at Plant McManus; and units 1-4 at Plant Kraft.

Units 3-4 at Branch, units 1-5 at Yates, and units 1-3 at Kraft are all coal-fired generating units. Kraft unit 4 is oil- or natural gas-fired, and McManus units 1-2 are oil-fired.

The company is requesting that units 6 and 7 at Yates switch from coal to natural gas; unit 1 at Plant McIntosh will switch from Central Appalachian coal to Powder River Basin coal.

GA Power

The EPA rule tightening particulate matter is set to take effect in 2015.

Fuel switches are the result of an evaluation of the MATS rule, other existing and expected environmental regulations, and economic analyses, the company said.

Georgia Power received approval in March 2012 for the decertification of three other units, and all three will be retired by the end of 2013.

Georgia Power is the largest subsidiary of Southern Company, one of the nation's largest generators of electricity. Georgia Power serves 2.4 million customers in all but four of the state's 159 counties.


EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson signed the final rule two weeks before announcing her resignation and submitted the rule for publication in the Federal Register.

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter final rule (NAAQS) made revisions to standards for particulate matter to "provide requisite protection of public health and welfare" and to revise how particulate matter is handled, in addition to ambient air monitoring, reporting, and network design requirements.

EPA says the rule will "protect the health of Americans from particle pollution" by strengthening the annual health NAAQS for fine particles (PM2.5) to 12.0 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). The agency also retained the existing standards for coarse particle pollution (PM10).


Tagged categories: Clean Air Act; Coal Combustion Residuals; Environmental Controls; EPA; Oil and Gas; Power Plants; Regulations

Comment from John Fauth, (1/16/2013, 9:40 AM)

It's sad that I feel the need to say I'm all for clean air, water, etc. But it seems anyone who is percieved as an impediment to more stringent environmental regulations is discredited as some extremist. Having said that, articles like this beg the question... when is enough enough? I don't pretend to have the answer to that question, but there are diminishing returns to ever increasing regulations with ever increasing costs attached to them. No matter how clean the air or water may be, it can always be cleaner.

Comment from Dennis Broecker, (1/17/2013, 7:01 AM)

John, I agree with your statement. A better understanding of the current amount of effluent from these facilities would allow us to make better informed opinions about the situation. I do know that I would not want to live near a coal fired plant that is not meeting the mercury emission standards. My GUESS is that these plants must have been in pretty bad shape if it was not economically feasible to convert them to other, cleaner, fuels. The ever tightening rules are based on social costs. We, myself included, complain how much we spend on health care. The EPA lefislation looks at the costs to comply against the social cost of non compliance. I personally feel the EPA does not do a good job of selling the reasons for the regulations. If they did so, we could better judge whether the legislation is appropriate.

Comment from John Fauth, (1/17/2013, 8:30 AM)

Dennis, I agree the EPA often appears to be capricious and arbitrary for lack of explanation (as if they are not to be questioned). And sometimes they are capricious and arbitrary. It is a luxury enjoyed by a federal bureacracy that is largely unbeholden to the American people or its elected representative. I'm not entirely sure from the article whether these plants did not meet existing mercury emission standards, or will fail to meet new standards once imposed in 2015. There's really a world of difference between the two. For instance, I live nearby a nuclear power plant here in northeast Ohio and feel completely safe. If EPA standards were to become more stringent making this plant a violator via regulatory fiat, I would not suddenly feel any less safe because a government agency decided that good wasn't good enough (or excellent wasn't good enough). In other words, these plants don't become any less safe simply because regulations change. And that costs are far more than just social... they are real, out of pocket costs (some call them hidden taxes) for a commodity (in this case electricity) that becomes less available and therefore more expensive.

Comment from Jerry Trevino, (1/18/2013, 11:30 AM)

As a result of the global warming myth regulations are placed regardless of the affect on the community. If mercury exposures was the REAL concern, then why do we have the curly light bulbs. Should we have The President perform a press conference with children in the background as possibly a few of the federal funded dead aborted fetuses showing us the long term effect of the mercury exposure created by broken curly light bulbs? Ohhh wait, we will not have coal fired electric power to have a need for any more light bulbs. Is he using his assault weapon, the EPA to shut down the coal powered electricity generating plants. Electricity is already too expensive to shut down existing running plants. We should have alternative energy running plants in full operation before we should shut down any existing producing plants. I am all for clean air, clean water, and a clean earth. Let us just be sensible about it.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (1/22/2013, 2:45 PM)

Jerry, modern "curly" (CF) light bulbs have very little mercury. The OMG MERCURY LIGHT BULBS is mostly hype. The typical coal plant puts out a LOT of mercury - using an incandescent bulb powered by the typical US power mix will cause several times as much mercury to go into the environment than if you vaporized a modern CF bulb at the end of its (average) lifespan. Of course, you don't vaporize a CF bulb. Under typical usage, it gets contained in a landfill. No big deal.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (1/22/2013, 2:53 PM)

Coal plants can meet the upcoming mercury regulations if they choose to - but with the widespread use of horizontal drilling and fracking, it can make more financial sense for a power company to just build a replacement power plant to burn natural gas. Building a natural gas plant is (relatively) cheap. You also don't have all the day-to-day hassle of dealing with handling a solid fuel, and disposing of the ash. Just pipe in the gas. Done. These are some OLD coal plants being retired - Plant Yates Unit 1 opened in 1950. It has got to be a maintenance nightmare by now - time to retire it. We've done the same analysis on bridges - it is frequently cheaper to replace an old steel truss bridge with a modern low-maintenance concrete bridge than to rehab it and maintain it. We still often rehab it for historical reasons, but not many people want to keep historical coal plants around.

Comment from John Fauth, (1/23/2013, 11:24 AM)

Tom, everything you wrote is certainly true. Unfortunately, billions of compact fluorescent light bulbs in landfills does pose a reasonable threat to ground water. The article does not say whether GP&L will replace these plants with more efficient natual gas plants. I can understand how doing so could make good financial sense. But if they don't, there will be an economic impact to the local economy, employment and tax base along with increased power costs due to reduced supply (or the need to purchase that supply from another generating company). If all that turns out to be the case, I think some folks simply question the quantitative environmental improvement as opposed to the very real costs (ie: where does this fall on the cost/benefit scale?).

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