Coming full circle

President Obama’s announcement about carbon pollution controls Tuesday at Georgetown University closed the circle in some ways on the future of Plant Washington. It won’t matter whether Plant Washington belches carbon into the air as a new source or an existing source, it will have to reduce and control the amount of Greenhouse Gases (GHG, or most commonly called carbon) it emits.

And that won’t be cheap.

Plant Washington has never modeled for carbon control, so the already doubled price tag Co2_Smokestack-284x300just to construct it won’t be going down.

We have a surplus supply of cheap electricity on the market. Power generated from Plant Washington won’t be any “better” than what we can get today. All we’ve heard about buying power from this plant is a lot of talk about getting a “preferred position” for future power contracts.

I am willing to bet that anyone who might consider financing this carbon fueled project will not just prefer a sound business plan with realistic returns on their investment, they will require it.

When that happens, Plant Washington will be nothing more than a failed hot air project in an economy and country already moving away coal.

White Stallion gallops away from proposed 1200 MW coal plant

Texas, a stalwart in using coal for electricity, has seen three proposed coal plants tank since the beginning of December. The Limestone 3 unit, which would have produced 745MW of power, went belly-up the first week of December. Developers spent six years trying to get that plant permitted and built before throwing in the towel.

In the last week of January Las Brisas Energy announced the cancellation of a 1320 MW proposed plant (the plant would have used a petroleum refinery product which is much like coal,  called pet coke).

On Thursday, February 14, White Stallion Energy gave plant opponents the sweetest Valentine possible by announcing that it isn’t going to pursue its 1200MW coal plant any longer.

Did they quit because of a lack of water? Air quality concerns? The impact on the health of local citizens?

Nope. It was all about the bottom line.

White Stallion said in a very short press release, the presently low price of natural gas has made the price of electricity from a new coal fired generator uncompetitive at this time”

That is COO speak for “this project is too expensive for us to make any money.”

Which brings us full circle to the questions people have been asking since January 2008: what makes Plant Washington such a good investment?

There is no pro-forma study to justify the project, in fact there is no independent information to support this multi-billion dollar plant,, and there never has been. Washington EMC officials have told us that much. They spent $1M of our money on a project which has no data or cost analysis to demonstrate that it is a sound way to spend our money (and it is our money since the co-op belongs to the members). 

The Texas Observer’s coverage the day after White Stallion bucked its project summed up the present status of the coal industry  with the article”Coal, an Obituary.” It included these observations and analyses:

  • coal stopped making economic sense. In short, coal got fracked.”
  • “The story for White Stallion is similar too: local opposition that started small but grew (it certainly helped that the conservative county judge turned against it); major regulatory impasses for the company; and a bottom-line that had the bottom fall out of it.”
  • “The White Stallion developers also didn’t do themselves any favors with ridiculous claims that the plant would lower electricity rates locally and that their traditional coal plant was a “clean coal” facility.”
  • “It’s weird to say, but get used to it: Coal is expensive.”

The Texas Observer also forecasts, “Wind power is cheaper. Even solar is fixing to eat coal’s lunch, if it isn’t already doing so. El Paso Electric Company recently agreed to buy power from a New Mexico solar farm for a little under 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. A new coal plant costs twice as much.”

Perhaps the most damning statement about White Stallion came from Eva Malina, with the local No Coal Coalition. Malina said, I think they thought that since we were a small rural community, they would not encounter opposition. They were wrong.”

 

A new back room deal

Based on the announcement Dean Alford made last week about Plant Washington and Taylor Energy Fund, the questions just keep building about what obligations the remaining four EMCs have to the project or P4G, what Taylor actually brings to the long embattled proposed coal plant, any contracts that will provide the EMCs with a “preferred position” if the plant ever gets built, and how much, if any, money will be returned to the co-ops.

This much is known, or being asked:

1. Alford started with ten EMCs in January 2008 when he announced Plant Washington with much bravado. At the beginning of last week he was down to four: Snapping Shoals, Central Georgia, Washington, and Upson. Last Wednesday, following media coverage of opposition candidates for the Snapping Shoals EMC Board of Directors in the Rockdale Citizen, Alford announced that the EMCs are “released” from any other expenses. In their place retired executive Tim Taylor steps in with a newly registered company that has a P.O. Box in Colorado and a disconnected phone line in Georgia.  There was no mention of exactly how, or how soon, the EMCs who have clung to this project will get their investment dollars back, if ever.

2. Now instead of ten co-ops Alford has one individual as a partner. His new partner has a history of expensive coal projects in Colorado and a recently registered company. No mention of any financial capacity has been announced to the public, and in fact in this latest round of interviews with the media, Alford refused even to provide contact information for Taylor (that’s fodder for another blog post)

3. Last week Dean Alford announced that the remaining four EMCs had signed a new agreement with P4G which releases them from any future financial investments, but which also provides them with a “preferred position” when the eventual (but to date unidentified or confirmed) owner of the plant begins to sell power. What type of back room deal has my co-op, Washington EMC (WEMC) agreed to? Have they agreed to buy power from Plant Washington, whose ultimate construction costs are unknown? What kind of rates have they been guaranteed, and how do those rates compare to other options? 

4. Alford told the Rockdale County paper, “The co-ops have always said their desire was the permitting of the plant and to find a strategic partner to own and operate the plant.”

Hmmm. In January 2008 he told the Marietta Daily Journal “These 10 cooperatives … are building this facility — 100 percent used by them, for them, — to keep energy rates affordable.”

And then under oath in court Alford said in response to an attorney’s question, “Now, when this facility is built, will Power4Georgians actually own the physical — the real  property? Will they actually own the power plant?” Dean Alford, “That is the plan at this time.” Testimony by Dean Alford, Fall-Line Alliance et al v. Georgia EPD September 9, 2010.

So was Dean Alford lying then or is he lying now? 

5. When Plant Washington was announced, P4G touted job numbers of 1,400 during construction. That number has increased to 1,600. With no engineering designs secured, how has the number of projected construction period jobs increased? Magic?

6. Alford and P4G continue to trot out a projected cost of $2.1B for the plant. That figure is over four years old, and construction costs have risen in that time. An independent report released by GeorgiaWatch, a consumer advocacy group, projects costs to be $3.9B, and that number doesn’t include the added expense of required mercury pollution and carbon pollution controls. If the number of workers goes up, then wouldn’t the payroll expenses go up too? What kind of math is this?

7. As pointed out in a recent edition of the Sandersville Progress, Alford has discussed the complex modeling P4G has done on the water demands and stress that Plant Washington will place on the aquifer. However, P4G has failed to file reports and information as required by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) water permit, and the EPD has not enforced these required filings. FOR TWO YEARS. (Why bother with a permit at all? But I digress.)

8. And in the Macon Telegraph’s coverage, Alford is quoted as saying that Plant Washington will be exempt from new carbon limits because it received its final permit before the new carbon regulations were proposed. This isn’t accurate, as a recent legal filing by the Environmental Protection Agency makes clear. Plant Washington’s permit was, at that time, still under legal challenge and still being amended to make Plant Washington subject to new EPA regulations governing mercury and other toxic pollutants. 

Alford has in the past referred to statements he disagrees with as “dishonest or intellectually naive.”

If P4G and WEMC leaders think that their owner/members and the public don’t see through their assertions, who is intellectually naive? And who is being honest about the facts?

WEMC: Quit calling the co-op owner/members liars

I don’t need to recount the way P4G got a water permit, but we all know, plant supporters and opponents alike, that appeals were filed and the permit requirements were significantly increased due to those appeals.

And friends, the Oconee was too low for withdrawals in May. Period. The data on water levels came from the USGS. No one rigged up questionable data for the recent press release on exceptional drought conditions or the careful research carried out by the Union of Concerned Scientists used in their report.

I know the only day we will all agree on Plant Washington is when the Washington EMC Board of Directors announce a decision that Plant Washington isn’t tenable and is cancelled.

In the mean time, WEMC Board Members, and in particular my Board Representative, Billy Helton, please tell your spokesman and “no bid” contractor to stop calling your members “dishonest.”

As a result YOU are also calling us, your owner/members, friends, and neighbors, well, liars.

And you can’t hide behind some thin “excuse” like, “I can’t control what anyone says.” You are paying your spokesman and you can put a stop to the inaccurate things he is saying about your owner/members by cutting him off at the checkbook.

Please remember, we are the same people who have held you up while you grieved, brought you food when there was an illness in your family, prayed with you in church, and cheered your children on to victories on the ball field. We are leaders in our shared community of churches, civic groups, businesses, and schools.

Quit stooping to name calling and inaccurate statements about what we all know didn’t happen and the veracity of data.

Those tactics will not be forgotten long after Plant Washington’s pursuit is just a bad memory for our community and co-op.

You know better. Would your mother be proud?

One simple reason the EPD shouldn’t issue a final permit for Plant Washington

May 15, 2012

To: Georgia Environmental Protection Division

RE:  Amendment 4911-303-0051-P-01-2

When Plant Washington was announced over four years ago the plant was expected to pump 122 lbs of mercury per year into the local airshed. The EPD approved that amount of toxins in a permit which local residents and organizations across the state challenged. The result was a second permit reducing the mercury emissions to 55.6 lbs per year.

The developer of Plant Washington, Dean Alford, acquiesced on meeting the MATS rules at start up. The much needed and long awaited MATS regulations reduce the allowable mercury emissions to 1.69 lbs per year.

Please allow me to pat myself and other plant opponents on the back for standing firm on lower emissions in a community which already teeters on non-attainment, and whose citizens suffer the health ramifications of poor air quality. If your agency is truly committed to protecting the health of Georgia’s citizens and our natural resources permits with such high emission levels should never have been issued.

Now that Mr. Alford has agreed to meet the MATS emissions sooner rather than later, he seems to have had a change of heart. In interviews with Politico Pro and The Sandersville Progress, Alford said he can meet the emissions standards at start up. That is what the amended permit requires. Period.

I hope you can appreciate my concern about Alford’s ability to meet these standards when he joined a filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stating that the emission regulations are unattainable.

The EPD permit amendment makes no mention of any technical or engineering requirements, or fuel mix, to assure that the emission standards will be met.

Is your agency in the business of issuing permits to companies who announce, before they have secured a final permit, that they can’t meet the requirements of the permit?

Rightly so, the confidence of local citizens in Alford’s ability to meet the standards has been deflated.

The taxpayers and citizens of Georgia expect, deserve, and demand that all companies issued a permit for emissions of any type, are able to meet those standards and maintain them in demonstrable and measurable ways.

Alford’s assurances that Plant Washington can meet the MATS rule are now hollow. I urge and request that the EPD do its duty to protect the health of my community as it is described in your mission and vision statements, and require Alford and Power4Georgians to demonstrate their ability to meet the MATS standards before a final permit is issued.

Sincerely,

Katherine Helms Cummings