ATLANTA — Georgia Power is planning to ask the Georgia Public Service Commission to decertify and close up to 15 coal and oil-fired power units or three plants across the state — a move that will impact nearly 500 employees.
The request to close units 3 and 4 at Plant Branch in Putnam County; units 1-5 at Plant Yates in Coweta County; units 1 and 2 at Plant McManus in Glynn County, and units 1-4 at Plant Kraft in Chatham County will be included in Georgia Power's updated Integrated Resource Plan that will be filed with the PSC on Jan. 31.
Plant Mitchell in Dougherty County will not be impacted, Georgia Power Albany Manager Jay Smith said Monday.
Lemuel Edwards, the general manager at the Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission, said Monday that Georgia Power's decision shouldn't impact how the Albany utility purchases its power. WG&L buys electricity from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, which has a stake in many of the Georgia Power-owned power plants across the state.
WG&L also gets some power from the South Eastern Power Administrators, or SEPA, which is mostly hydro-electric power.
"But they've known for a while now that the federal government is slowly pushing folks to get out of the coal-burning business because of environmental issues, so MEAG and Georgia Power have been putting a big emphasis on expanding their nuclear power units," Edwards said.
Georgia Power expects to ask for the closures to happen by April 16, 2015, which is when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Mercury and Air Toxics rule is set to begin. The PSC is expected to vote on the de-certification request this summer.
Mark Williams, a spokesman for Georgia Power, says that company-wide, 500 employees would be impacted by the closures.
"We hope to trim down as many as we can of those positions through attrition and to shift the remaining employees to other facilities," Williams said.
Several factors — including the cost to comply with existing and future environmental regulations, recent and forecasted economic conditions, and lower natural gas prices — contributed to the decision to close these units.
Additionally, the company will ask for de-certification of Boulevard 2 and Boulevard 3 combustion turbine generating units in Savannah upon approval of the IRP, because of the costs to repair and operate the units.
"We recognize the significant impact that these retirements will have on the local communities and we took that into account when making these decisions," said Georgia Power President and CEO Paul Bowers in a press release Monday.
"These decisions were made after extensive analysis and are necessary in order for us to maintain our commitment to provide the most reliable and affordable electricity to our customers. We are in the midst of a significant transition in our fleet that will result in a more diverse fuel portfolio – including nuclear, 21st century coal, natural gas, renewables and energy efficiency – to ensure we maintain our commitment for generations to come," he said.
The company will also request that units 6 and 7 at Plant Yates switch from coal to natural gas. Additionally, Unit 1 at Plant McIntosh, near Savannah, will switch from Central Appalachian 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 rest of Georgia Power's coal-fired fleet, including the units at plants Bowen, Hammond, Scherer and Wansley, are already in the process of installing additional environmental controls in order to comply with the MATS rule.
Georgia Power will continue to evaluate existing and expected federal and state environmental rules involving air emissions, water treatment, coal ash and gypsum to determine the economics of taking actions to comply with environmental regulations on generating units at Georgia Power plants.
Georgia Power currently operates 11,387 MW of coal-fueled generation at 10 plants across the state. Overall, the company has 18,623 MW of capacity, including nuclear, natural gas and hydro generation.
Georgia Power received approval 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 in Albany, totaling 33 MW, effective March 26, 2012.
Georgia Power is the largest subsidiary of Southern Company (NYSE: SO), one of the nation's largest generators of electricity. The company is an investor-owned, tax-paying utility with rates below the national average. Georgia Power serves 2.4 million customers in 155 of Georgia's 159 counties.