EMC group to address permits for coal plant

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

CONYERS -- The group of EMCs planning to build a coal-fired power plant will have a chance to address issues in their permit application in response to a judge ruling issued earlier last week.

Plant Washington, the proposed 850-megawatt plant to be built on 1,134 acres northeast of Sandersville in Washington County, is a project of POWER4Georgians. The group is made up of several EMCs in the state, including Snapping Shoals EMC that serves Rockdale and Newton residents. POWER4Georgians received final permits for the project from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division last April. The permits -- air quality, surface water withdrawal, groundwater withdrawal and water discharge -- allowed the group to go forward with plans for the estimated $2 billion plant.

However, 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 permit approval Dec. 16 in a 69-page order.

Recently, that same judge gave POWER4Georgians the chance to "remand two issues related to certain emissions levels contained in the Plant Washington permit back to the (the state EPD) and POWER4Georgians for modification," according to a Jan. 18 press release.

POWER4Georgians spokesman Dean Alford said in the statement that the ruling would not require POWER4Georgians to redo the entire permit application and it was "a positive development."

"There are more than 100 different conditions in this permit, and of those, only two required further analysis, which speaks to the thoroughness of our application," Alford said. "We know what needs to be done to address (the judge's) concerns and we look forward to addressing her concerns as soon as possible."

Brian Gist of the Southern Environment Law Center said Friday the December ruling that cited non-compliance with the Clean Air Act did not detail how to fix the two issues and EPD and POWER4Georgians filed a motion for clarification. The most recent ruling does not change the fact that those issues will need to be addressed, according to Gist.

"This is purely procedural. It provides clarification of what happens to the permit now," Gist said.

Alford said opponents of the project have voiced opposition, but have not provided solutions to meeting the state's energy needs.

"They have been repeatedly encouraged to come up with a viable plan to provide affordable and reliable electric service for the average Georgia citizen and have yet to do so. At the same time, they don't seem to be willing to unplug their cell phones, their computers, their air conditioners, their refrigerators or big screen TVs," Alford said.

Gist argued that everyone "from academics at Georgia Tech to Wall Street investment bankers have looked at this issue." The consensus is that there is a cleaner and cheaper way to produce energy. He said the existing supply, along with aggressive energy efficiency, are "more than sufficient" to meet energy demands.