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Plant Washington project in question after EMC drops support

CONYERS -- Officials with Snapping Shoals EMC said Thursday they are still committed to moving forward on a billion-dollar, coal burning power plant after Cobb EMC decided to leave the partnership on the project.

The Board of Directors for Cobb EMC voted Tuesday to end their involvement in development of the proposed Plant Washington near Sandersville in Washington County.

Cobb EMC was part of a consortium called Power4Georgians with four other EMCs, including Snapping Shoals EMC, that is backing the $2 billion coal plant.

Board members said a decrease in demand for energy played into their decision to stop investing in the new power plant.

"We couldn't make the numbers work to convince us it was in the best interest of members," Cobb EMC board member Ed Crowell told the Marietta Daily Journal. "It may be a great project, we just could not make it fit for the mission of Cobb EMC."

The Daily Journal reported Cobb EMC has contributed $13 million toward the project. The utility told the newspaper they could recoup those costs if an investor can be found to cover its share in the project.

Snapping Shoals EMC spokeswoman Leigh Ann Burgess said the local utility cooperative is staying on board with the project for now.

"At this point in time, we are still committed to obtaining the permit at Plant Washington," she said. "The effects of Cobb EMC's decision to exit the project are currently unclear. We will be exploring all of our options over the next few months."

Snapping Shoals serves 95,000 members across an eight-county area that includes Rockdale and Newton counties. Burgess said Snapping Shoals has invested $9.9 million into the project.

Dean Alford, spokesman for Power4Georgians said the project will continue after losing its largest partner.

"While we are disappointed in the decision of Cobb EMC's board to no longer participate in Plant Washington, we respect their decision," said Alford, who is a former state representative from Conyers. "However, this decision in no way derails our commitment to successfully develop Plant Washington. We're full speed ahead."

Alford said his group anticipated Cobb EMC leaving and they are in talks with other potential partners to complete the project. He said that he was not ready to discuss those new partners.

"That announcement is not for today, but I can you tell this. This power plant is needed and will ensure Snapping Shoals has access to affordable energy for its customers," Alford said.

The Plant Washington project has been criticized by environmental groups since it was proposed in 2008 for its possible impact on the local water and air.

Plant Washington has received all its permits from state and federal regulators except one concerning air quality. Alford said he expects the project will complete that final hurdle with a state administrative judge by the end of this year.

Jennette Gayer, a state advocate with Environment Georgia, said the loss of Cobb EMC makes Plant Washington a risky investment for Snapping Shoals EMC members.

"It's a very expensive project now and there are coming environmental regulations that could make it even more expensive," she said.

Gayer pointed out that Power4Georgians started with 10 EMCs with a customer base of 740,000. The current customer base is 167,000 with Snapping Shoals as the largest EMC in the partnership along with Washington, Central Georgia, Upson EMCs.

Gayer said electrical power demands are down along with the economy and she believes there are just as much savings in alternative and energy saving measures as is expected coming from Plant Washington.