Courts rescind permits for coal-burning plant

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

CONYERS -- Snapping Shoals EMC is still considering supporting the construction of a coal-fired power plant even after a judge recently reversed a decision to grant the project an air permit.

POWER4Georgians, the consortium of all EMCs in the state, received final permits from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division last April to build Plant Washington. The permits -- air quality, surface water withdrawal, groundwater withdrawal and water discharge -- allowed plans to go forward with the proposed 850-megawatt plant to be built on 1,134 acres northeast of Sandersville in Washington County. The plant is estimated to cost $2 billion.

Four member EMCs have officially withdrawn from the project. Snapping Shoals, the electric co-op serving Rockdale and Newton counties, is still considering participation in the project with remaining co-ops Cobb, Upson, Washington, Central Georgia, Pataula.

Several environmental advocacy groups, including Ogeechee Riverkeepers and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, filed a petition after EPD granted the permits. The petition claimed the EPD violated the Clean Air Act by granting the air permit and air pollutants from the plant were capable of causing cancer, birth defects, heart disease, developmental disorders and other serious injuries.

An administrative law judge reversed EPD's decision Dec. 16, 2010, in a 69-page order.

Snapping Shoals EMC spokesperson Leigh-Anne Burgess said Friday that the ruling was just one of many steps in the overall process.

"Snapping Shoals EMC is continuing to participate in the permitting process of Plant Washington," Burgess said.

SSEMC has said in the past that it has not made a final decision whether or not it will participate in funding the construction of Plant Washington. But SSEMC has said it has made financial obligations to the associated costs in the permitting process.

Environment Georgia advocate Jennette Gayer thought the permit reversal and the recent formal charges made against Cobb EMC CEO Dwight Brown should cause concern. According to media reports, Brown faces 31 criminal charges including theft, racketeering and conspiracy from allegations that he illegally used money from the co-op without approval from the members.

Gayer said Brown's indictment raised red flags.

"We urge the EMCs and their ratepayers that have invested in these coal plants through Power4Georgians to ask tough questions about how their money is being handled," Gayer said. "The EMCs need to ensure that the questionable business practices that have been highlighted by the Cobb County (District Attorney) have not fostered risky business decisions in the case of these coal plants that could ultimately impact rates."

SSEMC declined to specifically comment on Brown.

"Snapping Shoals EMC and Cobb EMC are two separate entities and the legal issues regarding Dwight Brown are a Cobb EMC matter," Burgess said. "It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the affairs of another company."