Co-ops propose $2 billion coal-fired plant in Georgia

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Ten electric co-operatives serving fast-growing areas of Georgia will seek permits to build a $2 billion, coal-fired power plant in Washington County, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

Ten electric membership coops formed a partnership, Power4Georgians LLC, to develop the 850-megawatt Washington County Power Station near Sandersville, Georgia, about 60 miles

southwest of Augusta.

Applications for air and other permits were filed last week with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, said Dean Alford, a spokesman for the partnership.

The co-ops see demand for baseload power to serve their 700,000 customers 24 hours a day growing by 1,000 MW, or 33 percent, to 4,000 MW by 2016, he said.

They currently acquire much of their baseload power from Oglethorpe Power Corp and through a variety of wholesale contracts, many of which will expire in 2013, Alford said.

When the co-op managers saw the increased cost to renew the wholesale contracts, they began to study the idea of building a supercritical coal plant as an alternative to provide more affordable power, Alford said.

“These 10 co-ops felt like they needed to take these steps at this time,” Alford said.

The Washington County station will burn a mix of pulverized low-sulfur coal from the Powder River Basin and eastern U.S. coal, according to a release.

Utilities across the country proposed about 150 new coal-fired plants in the past few years as natural gas prices surged, but in the past year coal plants have come under attack as public concern about climate change swelled. Coal plants emit a high level of carbon dioxide, a gas blamed for global warming.

In the past year, environmental groups claim more than 50 coal projects have been blocked by regulators, dropped by utilities or put on hold due to uncertainty over rising construction costs and the unknown cost of potential carbon regulation.

“It’s a huge public policy debate in our country,” Alford said.

Even as the climate debate rages, Alford said the Georgia partnership decided to move forward to develop the coal plant because they must provide reliable, affordable power to customers.

“If you wait until the path is clean, until there are no obstacles and no hurdles, nothing will get done,” Alford said.

The co-ops are also looking for ways to boost renewable power supplies and to expand energy efficiency programs to temper the rapid rise in power demand, he said.

The 10 co-ops include Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corp, Cobb Electric, Diverse Power Inc, Excelsior Electric, Central Georgia Electric, Upson Electric, Washington Electric, Jackson Electric, Pataula Electric and GreyStone Power.

Reporting by Eileen O’Grady; Editing by Marguerita Choy