Study offers alternative to coal for EMC

CONYERS -- There is a cheaper, cleaner and even a job-generating alternative to building a coal plant to address increased energy demands, according to an alliance of advocacy groups that presented its findings last week to the Snapping Shoals EMC board of directors.

Representatives from Georgians for Smart Energy, Environment Georgia, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies met with Snapping Shoals EMC directors to encourage the electric co-operative serving Rockdale and Newton Counties to reconsider funding construction of an estimated $2 billion power plant in Washington County.

Snapping Shoals EMC is part of POWER4Georgians, a consortium of EMCs in the state, that wants to build the 850-megawatt coal-fired plant near Sandersville, about 50 miles east of Macon. However, Plant Washington has raised questions across the state on how emissions will affect air quality and the environment. Four of the six member EMCs have officially withdrawn from financially supporting the project since POWER4Georgians received draft permits from Georgia Environmental Protection Division last August.

David Eichenthal, president and CEO of the Ochs Center, explained the purpose of the meeting was to lay out an alternative plan to a coal plant "that focuses first and foremost on energy efficiency." Ochs Center, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., was asked to do an independent study an alternative's cost-effectiveness, ability to produce economic benefits and ability to reduce the energy demand, said Eichenthal. The report was released March 9 after nine months of study.

"What our report says today is that on an annual basis for the next 14 years that if Snapping Shoals and the other EMCs were to focus on energy efficiency, it could create about 340 jobs, annually," Eichenthal said.

And it is the high potential for job creation through energy efficiency that warrants close attention, according to Eichenthal.

The economic benefits are diverse and will "multiply as it goes through the economy," added Georgians for Smart Energy campaign director Midge Sweet. But those benefits often are not thought about, she said.

"The economic benefits as they are portrayed by the folks who want to build a coal-fired power plant are really those benefits that just focus on the county where the plant would be," Sweet said.

But EMCs do not need to make a profit, as the purpose of EMCs is to serve its member-owners, explained Sweet.

"We don't need a coal plant that generates money as well as energy. This is not what the EMCs are all about," Sweet said.

Considering Snapping Shoals serves nearly 87,000 residential customers -- the second highest service area only to Cobb EMC -- there is a big focus on presenting the alternatives to Snapping Shoals, Sweet explained. But the environmental groups have tried to reach the other five EMCs that are still part of Plant Washington.

"They haven't been as welcoming as Snapping Shoals, so its a real tribute to Snapping Shoals that they're looking in to this," Sweet said.

Snapping Shoals EMC is still considering participation in Plant Washington, according to spokesperson Leigh-Anne Burgess. But the board was "receptive," to the information presented during Tuesday's meeting.

"No timeline for commitment or withdrawal has been established," Burgess said. "Snapping Shoals will continue to develop and implement energy efficiency programs that are cost effective and ensure reliability."

Final permits to start Plant Washington construction are still under review by Georgia EPD.