House Republicans slam EPA/Obama over coal retirements

Barry Cassell | Jan 09, 2013


The Republican majority on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said in a Jan. 8 statement that Georgia Power’s recent announcement of plans to retire 15 mostly coal-fired units totaling over 2,000 MW is the latest impact of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “War on Coal.”

The high cost of EPA regulations is forcing the retirement of a string of coal-fired power plants across the state of Georgia, the committee noted. Georgia Power anticipates that nearly 500 employees will be impacted by the closures.

“This announcement is the latest addition to a growing list of plant retirements prompted by EPA’s regulatory actions,” said the GOP statement. “Indeed, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) recently issued its Long-Term Reliability Assessment, determining that over 70,000 MW of fossil-fired generating capacity – predominantly coal – will retire over the next 10 years. Notably, NERC explains that 90 percent of those retirements will take place over the next 5 years, aligning with the compliance deadlines of new EPA regulations, such as the Utility MACT Rule. If the forecasts are realized, plants responsible for 20 percent of the nation’s coal-fired generation will be lost by 2017.”

The country’s increasing number of plant retirements translates to lost jobs, higher electricity costs, and reduced electric reliability, the GOP majority said.

“This retirement announcement by Georgia Power is disappointing yet unsurprising. Already, we have seen a number of coal plants fall victim to the Obama administration’s assault on coal and I would not be surprised if there are even more closures in the months ahead,” said Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky. “We are blessed with an abundance of coal which is the source of affordable energy for millions of American families and countless businesses. We will not stand idly by as the EPA seeks to regulate coal into oblivion - House Republicans will continue pursuing sensible policies that ensure coal remains a prominent fixture in our 'all of the above' pursuit of North American energy independence."

“Under the Obama Administration, the EPA has aggressively levied job-killing regulations on affordable, proven energy sources,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., Vice Chairman of the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee. “As we’ve learned with Georgia Power, EPA's war on coal will continue to cost American workers their jobs. Achieving energy independence is paramount to our economic prosperity and national security, and House Republicans will continue working toward a balanced approach to achieve that goal.”

Utility plan calls for coal shutdowns, conversions

Georgia Power said Jan. 7 that it expects to request approval from the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to decertify and retire 15 coal- and oil-fired units totaling 2,061 MW. The request to decertify these units would be filed with the PSC on Jan. 31 in this Southern Co. (NYSE: SO) subsidiary’s latest integrated resource plan.

The retirements would be: Units 3 and 4 (coal) at Plant Branch; Units 1-5 (coal) at Plant Yates; Units 1 and 2 (oil) at Plant McManus; and Units 1-4 (Units 1-3 fire coal, Unit 4 fires oil or gas) at Plant Kraft.

The company will also request that Units 6 and 7 at Plant Yates be switched from coal to natural gas. And Unit 1 at Plant McIntosh will switch from Central Appalachia coal to Powder River Basin coal. The fuel switches are the result of the company's evaluation of the MATS rule, other existing and expected environmental regulations, and economic analyses.

The company also said that the long-delayed conversion of Plant Mitchell Unit 3 from coal to biomass cannot be completed before 2017, should it move forward at all, due to continued regulatory uncertainty related to the Industrial Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule and other EPA rules.

Georgia Power received approval from the Georgia commission in March 2012 for the decertification of:

Plant Branch Units 1 and 2, which total 569 MW, effective Dec. 31, 2013, and Oct. 1, 2013, respectively; and

Unit 4C at Plant Mitchell, totaling 33 MW, effective March 26, 2012.

Sierra Club says these shutdowns part of nationwide trend

The Sierra Club said in a Jan. 7 statement about the Georgia Power plans: "Nationwide, coal use is at its lowest levels in decades as cleaner sources of energy are declining in price and coal is becoming more expensive, and with today’s announcement, 129 coal plants nationwide have been slated for retirement. Although Georgia Power has been slow to invest in clean energy generation to meet Georgia’s energy needs, today’s announcement demonstrates that coal-fired power plants are no longer able to provide competitively priced electricity in the Peach State."

“As a shareholder, I’m pleased that Georgia Power is phasing out a quarter of their aging, increasingly expensive to operate, coal-fired plants. Georgia Power’s own analysis showed that there was no future for the plants.

Shareholders will benefit from a less risky, less water-intensive portfolio that emphasizes energy efficiency, solar, and wind. Customers will benefit too,” said Sam Booher, Chair of the Savannah River Sierra Club group.

“While these retirements are an important step toward a twenty-first century energy economy for Georgia, we are disappointed that Georgia Power is asking coastal Georgians to bear additional years of coal pollution," said Colleen Kiernan, Sierra Club’s Georgia Chapter Director. "Delaying the phase out of Plant Kraft a year will mean more mercury in coastal blackwater rivers, where contamination problems are already the most severe. The switch to Western coal at Plant McIntosh may mean the plant runs far more than it does now, creating far more pollution impacting local communities."

The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign was launched in 2002, and in partnership with allied groups across the country, the Sierra Club said it has prevented 174 new coal plants from being built and has secured the planned retirement of 129 plants.

Barry Cassell is chief of coal generation for GenerationHub, now a unit of PennWell.

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House republicans Missing the facts

Barry Cassell has mislead you on the motive for Georgia Power to shut down these coal plants.  let me provide the facts about the plants that are scheduled for shut down and  the new plants that are scheduled to come on line, then you can draw your own conclusion as to Georgia Powers motives.  

The units at Plant Branch were built between 1965 and 1969.  The Units at Plant Yates between 1950 and 1958.  The units at Plant McManus 1952 and 1958.  And the units at Plant Kraft between 1958 and 1972.  

In April 2008, this was 4 months before Obama was even nominated at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008, Georgia Power entered into an agreement to design the two new nuclear units at Vogtle.  These two new nuclear units are 1100 MW each and will come on line in 2016 and 2017.  That is just about the same time that most of the coal plants will be decommissioned.  

Barry did a good job of making it sound as if the People of Georgia were going to be left in a lurch when it came to base load power generating capacity when these coal powered units were shut down.  But the fact is that 2 new nuclear units with a generating capacity of 1100 MW each will be coming on line as the 2061 MW of coal generating capacity goes off line.  Now with the facts, I will allow you to draw your own conclusion about Georgia Powers motive to shut down these aging coal plants and about the reliability of these two new nuclear plants verses the 50 to 60 year old coal plants.

House Repulicans slam Oboma over Coal

Decommissioning coal quickly could be very problematic

A lot of people feel that (heavily subsidized) renewables can replace coal generation.  But no amount of additional capacity from renewables can overcome the variability and dispatchability issues associated with solar and wind.  For an amusing take on the potential problems see my Christmas Blog at

Coal can be cleaner and more efficient.  It can also be supplemented by solar as was demonstrated in the Cameo plant in Colorado before it was shut down.  Until we can guarantee that renewable sources can provide 7x24 base load generation (which will require utility-scale energy storage) it would be wise to decommission coal plants slowly and carefully.

Check the competition

My understanding of China's electricty energy policy is that they are modernizing their fleet of coal-fired power plants.  In order to approve a new coal-fired plant, the builder must retire a certain amount of legacy coal-fired capacity.  The new plants are all large supercritical or ultra-supercritical plants fitted primarily at this time with SOx reduction systems with provision to add NOx reduction at a later date.  By this policy, they are increasing the efficiency of their coal-fired power plants thereby reducing CO2 emissions per MWh by about 40%.  China is still starting up about 900MW of coal-fired power every week if what I was told is correct.  They have no intention of installing CCS but are cutting into the CO2/MWh substantially.

I have seen at least two articles indicating that China is redirecting funding originally intended for wind and solar into hydro and nuclear because there is more advantage to investing in nuclear and hydro due to the reliability of the generation and the higher achievable capacity factors and more efficient use of construction materials.

Now that is an energy policy.