The blessings and the curses of weekly newspapers

Several years ago I edited The Wrightsville Headlight in neighboring Johnson County. I spent a year there meeting and working with some of the nicest people I will ever know.

The upside of a weekly paper is that when you print something readers like, you have a whole week for people to say nice things about the paper. When you run a story about an issue which divides people, there is always an opportunity for a week’s worth of phone calls and passionate discussion.

One serious downside of weeklies is that readers must wait a week to see any corrections or clarifications in print.

This week’s edition of The Sandersville Progress didn’t get some important facts clear about a pending settlement concerning the construction permit for Plant Washington or the Greenhouse Gas Rule (GHG, or carbon pollution rule).

The paper’s coverage did not include or state clearly:

  1. P4G (Power4Georgians) does not have a final permit, and the amended permit must stand for public comments before it can be final. This will take weeks to complete.

2. The carbon pollution rule (also called Green House Gas or GHG rule), was announced on Friday, April 13.  Plant Washington needed a final and complete permit before April 13th to be considered exempt from the rule.  In addition, P4G must commence construction before April 13, 2013 in order to avoid this additional pollution control rule. The clock is running now on this project.

3. If Plant Washington fails to meet the exemption criteria announced by the EPA, it will have to meet the new carbon pollution rules.

4. “Commence construction” requires more than moving some dirt around. It might be demonstrated by a contract for a boiler for the facility. For a facility of this size experts estimate the cost to be about $400M, with additional cancellation penalties ranging from $20M-$80M. There is no indication that P4G has done any of the engineering work required to order a boiler. There is also no indication that P4G has lined up the financing that would allow it to enter such a significant contractual commitment.

5. No company has built a new coal plant to meet the new Mercury and Air Toxins rules which were finalized earlier this year. Dean Alford, the project developer, has never built a coal plant.

6.The remaining four co-ops in P4G do not have any Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) in place for customers to purchase electricity generated by Plant Washington.

  7. Dean Alford said that the PPAs will be used to help acquire financing loans for the project in addition to the bonds it expects the county to issue. Therefore, there is no indication that P4G has the necessary financing in place for the project.

I understand that the Progress works with limited staff and that the publisher, Trib Publication, has no online capacity to run corrections or clarifications promptly.

Whether the paper is crystal clear or not, thre are people who rely on it heavily for their local news (and we have a high population of people here who do not use the internet at all). It will be another week before we all see high school sports pictures, read Shirley Friedman’s column, or find out that in fact Plant Washington isn’t “full steam ahead.”

In fact, it seems to be sputtering.

About Katherine Helms Cummings

During the day I am a social and environmental activist whose professional work has been in the nonprofit world for the last 12 years. Most nights and weekends I am an artisan making accessories with upcycled cashmere and woven textiles. My handmade items are available at The Sassy Gal http://thesassygal.org
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