Craig Barrs, Georgia Power’s executive vice president for External Affairs, laughs with Georgia Power Area Manager Jay Smith Tuesday.
ALBANY, Ga. -- If it can convince the Obama administration to approve its wood-burning conversion, Georgia Power's Plant Mitchell in south Dougherty County will become one of the nation's largest biomass-fueled power facilities, officials say.
The planned retrofit of the coal-burning plant has been mired in regulatory hurdles and the plant, which originally was going to begin burning the renewable fuel last July, likely won't fire up before 2017.
Craig Barrs, Georgia Power's executive vice president for external affairs, told the Dougherty County Rotary Club Tuesday that converting Plant Mitchell's power source "was the right thing to do."
"Is it the right thing to do to close it down and retire the unit or to retrofit it?" Barrs asked. "We think we should convert it, but we have to wait on the rules from the (Environmental Protection Administration)."
If the plant can be successfully converted from coal to biomass fired, it would mean tons of wood material would be brought by rail car and trucks into Dougherty County each day, he said.
"There are some who have called us the Saudi Arabia of biomass," Barrs said. "Once up and operational, we're predicting that it would take about 100 tractor-trailer loads a day to keep it burning, which would create cottage industries in trucking and harvesting."
The plant would most likely burn tree stumps, tree tops and other parts of trees that aren't used for construction.
Southern Company, the parent of Georgia Power, currently operates another biomass plant in Nacogdoches, Texas, but Barrs said that Plant Mitchell would would be considerably larger than that operation.
Renewables are an emerging part of Georgia Power's energy portfolio, but remain only a small part of it.
Coal remains the largest contributor to the company's power, but growing regulatory and political constraints are causing it drop rapidly. It is increasingly being replaced by natural gas, Barrs said, as engineers work to perfect the practice of fracking and more efficiently tapping into the country's more than 200 year reserve of natural gas.
Nuclear energy makes up about 20 percent of Georgia Power's portfolio. The two new reactors at Plant Vogtle are among the few new nuclear energy projects under way since the Carter and Reagan administrations all but put a moratorium on nuclear power plant construction.
While U.S. has lagged in nuclear power development over the last 30 years, the rest of the world hasn't, Barrs said.
China is currently working on 30 new nuclear projects, while Russia has 10 in the pipeline and India has nine.
The U.S. has started work on just four new nuclear reactors -- two in Georgia and two in South Carolina -- since the 1980s.
When asked about what majors and specialities upcoming high school and college students should focus on if they want a promising career going forward, Barrs recommended electrical engineering.
"We're facing a real shortage in electrical engineers now," Barrs said. "We need good, quality engineers to graduate college and go back out into the communities of this state. They're vital to our success."