How to be both angry and sad at the same time

For the past 17 months and six days, people have said that I am handling suddenly being widowed with grace. Being furious and raging wasn’t going to unwind the fact that a careless driver killed my husband while he was riding his bike. I have limited reserves of energy, and I knew that walking around being angry wasn’t going to get me very far.

Last Thursday I was both angry and sad. If David Cummings was alive, I would have put down whatever work project had my attention in Atlanta just before 2:00, gotten in my car, and driven back to Sandersville, Georgia to celebrate with him. As I have told friends before, it was David who helped me connect the dots not too long after the boondoggle Plant Washington was announced.

I didn’t know much about energy production before the end of January 2008 when Dean Alford was presented to the business leaders of Washington County in an invitation only presentation at the Washington EMC. As I learned more, I became very concerned. It’s handy to be married to a geologist who can explain the water tables and such when a coal plant is going to draw down 16Million gallons of water per day, and your household water source about eight miles from the plant site is also drawn from a well in that same geologic plain.

FACE Board members and earliest supporters with certificates of recognition from President Obama

I’ve always credited David for helping me find my way on responding to Plant Washington. On one of the first beautiful spring days in 2008, the kind that makes you want to find any reason to go outside, I told David I wished there was someone who lived near the proposed plant site that I could talk to, because surely they would be concerned about the threats of coal ash emissions, access to water, safety, and property values. He casually said that long-time family friends Randy and Cathy Mayberry had a cabin adjacent to the site, that maybe I should talk to them.

That sunny afternoon I went out to walk, and after about an hour, sweaty and kind of worn looking, I knocked on the Mayberry’s front door. Cathy answered, and while I told her I didn’t want to interrupt their day, and I surely wasn’t fit to sit down with anyone to talk, maybe sometime we could have a conversation about the risks posed by Plant Washington. From the living room Randy called out, “Come on in.”

From there Cathy and I met on someone’s porch with Lyle Lansdell, Pat, and Sonny Daniel, Paula and John Swint. Jennette Gayer came drove down from Atlanta. Seth Gunning, a student at Valdosta State who was light years ahead of the rest of us about energy and the environment, drove up for a meeting. Larry Warthen, whose church was founded after the Civil War, where unmarked graves of enslaved and free people are just yards from the plant site perimeter, stepped up to help lead in the work. The lawyers and partner organizations came to us to teach us, guide us, and become champions for our community too.

David was a certified stream monitor for the Ogeechee Rverkeeper. Our grandchildren Chase and Ella went with him one afternoon to learn about stream monitoring.

David didn’t go to those early meetings, but he listened to me, counseled me when I thought my head would explode as I learned more about the convoluted way coal plants are developed, permitted, and financed. He signed the petitions and went to the hearings. He phone banked when volunteers across the state came together to help return Cobb EMC to the rightful control of the member-owners. He used a few vacation days to attend court proceedings and EPA public comment sessions. Later he agreed to serve on the board of the small grassroots organization, the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE), that came together after the first few community meetings. Because he grew up fishing, canoeing, and swimming at our family’s farm on the Ogeechee River, he became a certified stream monitor.

Summer vacation in Maine, 2010, as I was beginning to realize fighting Plant Washington was the work I needed to do full-time

In the summer of 2010, when I knew to my core that quitting a job as a rural health advocate, where I excelled, instead of working nights, weekends, and burning through vacation days to fight Plant Washington, was my true calling, David supported me. When I worked 12 hours a day, he walked the dogs and cooked dinner. When I had cancer and was exhausted from radiation treatments, and the work required to fight Plant Washington totaled at least one thousand hours each week among our partners, he supported me. When Plant Washington’s funders backed out, and the truth in what FACE and our partners had said all along became clearer and clearer, David celebrated with me. And when the work of fighting Plant Washington wasn’t a full-time job any longer, because winning meant I would work my way out of a job, David supported me while I looked for work that would tap all the passion and experience I had garnered since 2008. He was always there.

Thursday evening I had plans to meet Atlanta friends who don’t know me as coal-plant fighting activist. One of them said she wanted to hear the story of my work as we began walking through the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. I told her I couldn’t compress it well at the moment, as it began in 2008 and changed me forever.

So we toasted a long-awaited victory, one they know matters to the health of the small rural community where my husband and children grew up, where some of my grandchildren live now, the community that helped FACE leaders become the best and truest versions of ourselves.  We toasted to doing work that matters and benefits everyone on this one planet, and to those whose bodies have been returned to it.

 

The arc of justice is long

Dean Alford

Earlier this afternoon the Atlanta Journal Constitution sent out a news alert concerning the resignation of Dean Alford, a member of the Georgia University System’s  Board of Regents. Alford was recently reappointed to the Board by Governor Brian Kemp.

The newspaper details that the Georgia  Attorney General and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation issued arrest warrants for Alford for creating a fraudulent invoice submitted to the state, and for forging the signature of a university employee.

What did Alford do?

The paper’s coverage includes, “Alford is accused of creating a fraudulent invoice acknowledgement form, dated Sept. 24, to submit to a company called Versant, state officials said. The document is alleged to have falsely asserted that the University of Georgia would pay Versant $487,982.88 to satisfy a debt owed to Alford’s own company, Allied Energy Services, LLC, located in Rockdale County.”

That’s not the biggest amount of money, according to the AJC. The article continues with, “He’s also suspected of transmitting fraudulent documents to Versant to make the company believe he had legitimate purchase agreements and accounts receivable with various entities, state officials said. Alford was attempting to sell such accounts receivable to Versant in exchange for $1,798,327.06, investigators said. ”

Alford purchased Allied Energy Services for pennies on the dollar when a judge ordered Cobb Energy holdings, a private shareholding company spun off from the nonprofit Cobb EMC, to be dissolved. Alford’s “haul” at Cobb EMC, the electric membership co-op in the north Atlanta suburbs, was close to $18Million according to 2015 news coverage.

But there’s more. Much more.

Allied Energy Services was awarded a no-bid contract to develop Plant Washington, a $6Billion proposed coal plant that soaked up millions of dollars from EMCs in Georgia under the umbrella of Power for Georgians. The electric co-op in Washington County, Washington EMC, sunk $1Million of member-owner dollars into the boondoggle plant, slated to be built just miles from my home, and the homes of a small group of local citizens who became the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE). Alford never secured financing, power purchase agreements, or customers. FACE has never wavered in its grassroots committment to protecting our natural resources and the health of our families and friends.

January 25, 2012

The adventures of FACE, and those of others in Washington County, have been detailed on this blog since Plant Washington was proposed in January 2008. The saga involves seeing fellow citizens for who they truly are, or are not. FACE leaders earned the rights to our story through hard work and selfless determination.

I’ll close here by adding that FACE and our partners have waited years to throw the biggest celebration to ever happen in Washington County. We’ve got a party to plan and invitations to send to those who stood with us.

Another hurdle for “dormant” Plant Washington

The Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 3rd confirm that Plant Washington will not get a “pass”, adding yet another hurdle to the development of one of the last proposed new coal plants in the country.

The new standards rely on partial capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions. Plant Washington project spokesman Dean Alford has said that such a standard will result in cancellation of the coal-fired project because it was not designed to meet the standard. To avoid that outcome, the project developer, Power4Georgians, LLC (P4G) sought to convince EPA that the project had “commenced construction” when the standards for new sources were first proposed in January 2014.  Under such circumstances, Plant Washington would be considered an existing source exempt from the new standards

Dean Alford
Dean Alford

But as Alford and P4G are now finding, there’s a difference between saying something and proving it.

Almost two years ago, in the draft version of the standards, the EPA specifically addressed Plant Washington and another proposed coal-fired plant in Kansas. The agency took the developers at their word that the plants were under construction and therefore qualified as existing sources.  But EPA also said that if either plant failed to qualify as an existing source, and was therefore classified as a new source, the agency would consider granting special standards due to the unique circumstances that both already had their construction permits.  The idea was that these two sources, the last two coal plants still supposedly under development in the country, would get special treatment – perhaps a standard less stringent than that applied to other new sources.  Otherwise the two lingering plants might not get built despite their “sunk costs.”

But last week, in the final rule, EPA said it is “unaware of any physical construction that has taken place at the proposed Plant Washington site,” and noted that a recent audit of the project had described it as “dormant.” EPA said it appears that Plant Washington did not commence construction when the new source rule was proposed, and would therefore likely be considered a new source should it ever be constructed.
 

The EPA pointed out that in October 2014, P4G received an 18-month extension on Plant Washington’s air permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The EPA went on to say that the possibility of Plant Washington being built and operating is “too remote” to merit an exemption from the new carbon emission standards.

So Plant Washington is not an existing source.  But what kind of carbon standard will it get? Remember that EPA said it would give Plant Washington and the Kansas project their own new source carbon standards.  Well, on this point, EPA punted.  Why?  Because the agency views it as so unlikely that these projects will actually go forward that it doesn’t want to spend the time coming up with individualized standards.  In the agency’s words, “because these units may never actually be fully built and operated, we are not promulgating a standard of performance at this time because such action may prove to be unnecessary.”

Ouch. 

EPA puts the ball P4G’s court, telling the developer that it must formally request a determination of its status — new or existing —  before EPA can decide whether and what kind of standards should apply to its carbon emissions.

P4G has had the ability since January 2014 to seek this so-called “applicability determination,” which would clear up once and for all the question of its status under the new standards.  In fact, under Alford’s leadership, P4G sought such an “applicability determination” from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, but later chose to withdraw that request before the state agency could respond. Rather than clarify the project’s status, Alford opted to pursue an 18-month extension of the construction deadline under Plant Washington’s state-issued air permit. Alford got the extension, but this did little to convince EPA of P4G’s claim that the project had commenced construction in January 2014.  Instead, EPA arrived at the opposite conclusion: that Plant Washington is going nowhere fast.

Thanks to EPD’s generosity, Plant Washington still has 8 months left on its deadline to construct under the air permit.  But the project’s water discharge permit, another critical piece of the project, expired in March of this year. P4G failed to timely file an application to renew the permit prior to its expiration, prompting EPD to fine P4G.  EPD gave P4G thirty days to cure the defect but P4G missed that deadline as well.    These are not the actions of a project developer intent on meeting its construction deadline. 

And here in Washington County, there are no signs the coal-fire project is going forward, even at a snail’s pace. No ground has been broken, no Power Purchase Agreements have been announced, and no financier willing to pour the necessary billions into the project has emerged.

The EPA was correct in its refusal to exempt Plant Washington from the new carbon emission
standards.  The plant is not needed and would be a major source of carbon emissions.

Over 8.5 years have passed since this boondoggle plant was first announced, and its future is not one bit brighter than it was on the cold, gray, January day when it was unveiled. If Mr. Alford returns for yet another permit extension next year, the state would be wise to tell him that the final buzzer has sounded and no more time can be added to the game clock

Sleeping with the Enemy

The Friday Photo
June 26, 2015

Not a photo this week, but a fond remembrance, in two parts, of a campaign where a picture and few words told the story (It won a national marketing award for “Best Villian.” I wish I could claim the idea as my own.)

Sleeping with the Enemy frontSleeping with the Enemy back

The Fat Lady is looking through her sheet music

After 8.5 years, a lot of questions about Plant Washington, Cobb EMC, and Cobb Energy, a for-profit company created by Dwight Brown while he ran the state’s largest electric co-op, have been answered after a forensic audit conducted for Cobb EMC was released by Channel 2 News in Atlanta last week. (A forensic audit is a type of financial audit that is conducted concerning possible fraud or misconduct.)

The document, which includes a 150+ page Executive Summary, also shines a bright light on Plant Washington, which Washington EMC leaders spent $1Million pursuing. Allied Energy Services, run by Brown’s crony Dean Alford, holds a no-bid contract to develop Plant Washington.

The audit includes some big numbers. Dwight Brown and his wife Mary Ellen, received over $20Million in payments, loans, benefits, and preferred stock from Cobb EMC and Cobb Energy, a for-profit company, established in 1998 under Brown’s directive.

Brown’s private business partner and Vice-President at Cobb Energy, Dean Alford, hauled in about $18Million in payments and benefits, according to the audit.

Alford was selected by Brown to serve on the Cobb Energy Board. From there Alford landed CEO appointments to Allied Utility Network and Allied Energy Services, both owned by Cobb Energy. The auditors wrote that they, “found no evidence that Cobb Energy reviewed or approved any business plan for any of the businesses it acquired or created.” The audit states that, with the exception of perhaps two entities, neither of them being Allied Energy Services of Allied Utility Network, “all of the Cobb Energy spinoffs lost money, some on a grand scale.”

Cobb Energy gave Allied Utility Network $5.9M by moving money from the nonprofit Cobb co-op to Cobb Energy, the for-profit company that, according to the audit, was anything but a profit generator. The audit reports that Cobb Energy general ledger entries totaling $4M appear to have funded Allied Energy, but the bookkeeping isn’t precise (lack of clear bookkeeping records is just one of the many criticisms raised in the audit).

So what about Allied Energy Services, Plant Washington, and the group of co-ops, including Washington EMC, that organized Power4Georgians (P4G) to support Plant Washington (and another coal-fired plant to be located in Ben Hill County) that Brown and Alford were touting years ago?

Allied Energy Services, led by Alford, secured the no-bid contract to develop coal-fired Plant Washington, even though, as the audit states, “neither Alford nor Allied had any experience building or developing a coal-fired power plant, and witnesses indicated he was hired on the basis of a recommendation by Dwight Brown.”  Alford also heads P4G, which continues to promote Plant Washington even though all of the original EMCs that made up the consortium have ceased funding the project. P4G has already dropped plans for the second facility, which would have been called Plant Ben Hill.

Large tracts of land for both coal plant sites have been bought or tied up in contracts by several companies in amounts that totaled in the millions.

Where all that money came from is among the audit’s more interesting findings.

Monies paid to Cobb EMC by its members went to more than the for-profit companies owned by Cobb Energy. Both Alumni Properties LLC, which was involved in land acquisitions for the Ben Hill coal plant, and Buster and Brown, LLC, another private real estate venture, are linked to Dean Alford and his boss at Cobb Energy, Dwight Brown.

But there were even more land companies, including Ben Hill Timberland, LLC and Washington Timberland, LLC. Washington Timberland, LLC, as readers of Rural and Progressive may remember, has a history of late property tax payments in Washington County.

Dean Alford and P4G cancelled Plant Ben Hill over three years ago, but the audit raises questions about whether it was ever a real project.  The audit says that “Senior Cobb EMC officers…advised that Plant Ben Hill was a ‘decoy” designed as a subterfuge to keep land prices lower in Washington County.”

Which raises troubling questions about Plant Washington and whether it was ever a viable proposal, or merely a scheme designed to enrich P4G.  In January of 2012, Cobb EMC Board members ceased funding Plant Washington following a presentation by Alford, during which he said, “P4G never intended to build Plant Washington” and that, “P4G’s goal has always been to obtain the permits needed and then sell them to any interested party that could build the plant.”  Unfortunately, it took many more months before Washington EMC followed Cobb EMC’s lead.

I happened to attend the invitation-only announcement for Plant Washington at the end of January 2008. The event was attended by former Washington CEO Frank Askew, then CFO and now Washington EMC CEO Wendy Sellers, Washington County Industrial Development Authority Chair, and Sandersville Railroad stockholder Hugh Tarbutton, and other Tarbutton family members.  At that time, Alford was clear in stating that Plant Washington would be built, owned, and operated by P4G members to provide affordable power to co-op members.

“Senior Cobb EMC officers interviewed advised that Plant Washington is now dormant,” according to the audit.

There’s a lot of information to digest in the 150+ page audit, which was requested by the Cobb EMC Board members elected after Brown and his cronies were ousted from the electric co-op almost four years ago. Last week Cobb County Prosecutor Don Geary told Channel 2 News in Atlanta that additional criminal charges could result from the findings.

The audit concludes with this statement, “This report has clearly demonstrated that how the former CEO made business and accounting decisions from which he and his friends profited. There was no effective compliance and ethics program and no oversight on the part of the Board of either entity, Cobb Energy or Cobb EMC to stop the activities perpetuated by the former CEO.”

It is time for Washington EMC leaders to come clean with its members and the larger community about the waste of member resources that Plant Washington has been from the beginning. Members expect and deserve the truth. We must hold them, and all our county leaders, accountable for the boondoggle they signed us up for over 8.5 years ago.

Two boxes, 8.5 years

The Friday Photo
May 29,2015


We’re downsizing today. These two boxes are filled with documents spanning 8.5 years (and counting) of some of the most difficult, rewarding, and meaningful work I will ever do.

Tarbuttons are big funders for Gov Deal

There’s no doubt that money follows power. When your primary measure for the most important appointments is “who has money and who will give it to me” then you have a government like Nathan Deal’s, which is dominated by a few major donors instead of reflecting the diversity of Georgia’s citizens.

Last week the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that, “Three powerful Georgia boards help to bankroll Gov. Nathan Deal.” The three boards reviewed include Washington County’s own Tarbutton family.

As noted by the AJC, Ben Tarbutton, III, often referred to in conversation as Ben III by people in Washington County, currently sits on the Georgia University System Board of Regents .  Ben III is a former Chair of the Board of Regents and was appointed by Gov Deal for a second term in 2013. He will sit on that Board until 2020. The AJC reports that Ben Tarbutton, III has donated $158,100 to Deal’s campaign since 2009.

The AJC quoted Ben III  describing his donations as part of  “modern day politics.”

During Ben III’s first term on the Regent’s Board he was joined by Dean Alford, who holds a no-bid contract to build a coal-fired coal plant in Washington County called Plant Washington.

Alford’s second wife, Debbie Dlugolenski Alford, was appointed to lead the Georgia Lottery in October 2012.  The AJC reported that Ms Alford was the sole finalist for the job. She had no previous experience running a lottery. One Lottery Board member, Frances Rogers, resigned because she thought Gov Deal had interfered in the process for selecting someone to lead the Lottery.

Just a few months after Debbie Alford was appointed to lead the Lottery, Benjamin R Tarbutton (Benjie to folks in Washington County) was appointed to the Georgia Lottery Board. I don’t know if Benjie filled the seat held by Ms Rogers. Benjie is Ben III’s cousin.

Benjie’s father is Hugh Tarbutton, Sr. Hugh Sr. was re-appointed to the Georgia Ports Authority two years ago by Gov Deal. He had served 20 years on the Ports Authority Board but former Gov Sonny Perdue wouldn’t extend his term. Hugh Sr. has donated $157, 200 to Deal’s campaign according to the AJC’s infographic  and he is back on the Ports Authority Board. (Hugh Sr. has a son who is also named Hugh, hence the use of Sr. here.)

It gets even cozier.

The Tarbuttons own Sandersville Railroad, a short-line railroad, that would move hundreds of cars of coal every week to Alford’s proposed Plant Washington, if the plant is ever built. They also own B-H Transfer, a trucking company based in Washington County. The Tarbuttons have a vested interest in transportation, and Georgia’s ports are tied to transportation.

Plant Washington will also require thousands of acres of land. The proposed plant site include large tracts of land owned by Hugh Tarbutton, Sr. A few tracts of Plant Washington land that don’t belong to Hugh Sr. are connected to Washington Timberland, LLC. That LLC is registered to Dean Alford. According to county tax records (Tuesday, August 26, 2014), property taxes due in December 2013 by Dean Alford’s LLC are still unpaid, and are subject to auction next month at the Washington County courthouse.

Oh yeah-Debbie D. Alford’s daughter Sasha Dlugolenski, is Governor Deal’s Press Secretary. A complaint was filed against Sasha Dlugolenski  earlier this summer concerning her Tweeting in support of her boss, Gov Deal.

People may think Atlanta is the center of power in Georgia, but it seems to tilt towards Washington County and the checkbooks of a few campaign donors.

Enough is enough

The Friday Photo
May 2, 2014

20140502-072805.jpg
I posted this photo on January 25, 2012 after Cobb EMC abandoned Plant Washington and resigned itself to a likely $15M loss on the proposed coal plant it had bankrolled with co-op owner/member dollars.

Almost 6.5 years after it was announced as a “done deal,” Power4Georgians has asked for a permit extension for this because P4G chose to delay construction.

Today is the last day to tell the Georgia EPD that Power4Georgians has had plenty of time.

We’re all living on the same small spinning piece of real estate sharing the limited water and air that has to sustain all of us. Every one of us have skin in this game.

Sign and share this message to the Georgia EPD TODAY and say that after almost 6.5 years, “enough is enough.”

 

Um no, not really

This letter was submitted to newspapers sold in the Washington EMC area:

Um, no. Not really

There is a critical error of fact in a press release issued by Power 4 Georgians last week. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has NOT stated that Plant Washington is exempt from any of the proposed carbon, or greenhouse gas (GHG) rules proposed by the agency, for existing or new power plants. In fact, it has become even clearer that, if built, Plant Washington will be subject to carbon pollution standards.  The only question is how protective those standards will be.

Plant Washington’s developer Power4Georgians has requested yet another extension from Georgia’s Environmental Protection Agency for his dinosaur-fuel based project. Southern Environmental Law Center attorney John Suttles commented that, “If Power 4 Georgians commenced construction a year ago like they said, they wouldn’t need additional permit extensions.”

Power4Georgians is choosing to delay construction.

With no announced Power Purchase Agreements or billions in required financing announced, of course the project requires extensions. If the project was fully funded and coal stacks of moneycustomers were waiting for power, wouldn’t the plant already be under construction?

The arguments against Plant Washington continue to grow larger and stronger with time. More energy producers are switching to renewable fuel sources due to reduced costs. Ratepayers are demanding more power produced by sunshine and wind. Major financiers have abandoned coal projects. A similarly speculative project, the Longview Power Plant in Maidsville, West Virginia, began operations in December 2011 and filed for bankruptcy less than two years later.  Meanwhile, ratepayers for power plants like the Prairie State Energy Campus have seen their monthly bills go up by as much as 51 percent due to the soaring costs of coal plants.

We’ve never needed Plant Washington in the first place. If you don’t believe me, drive out 300px-Solar_panelsto the 10 megawatt solar farm in Davisboro and see where Cobb EMC in Marietta is buying clean, affordable electricity generated right here in our own community.

Katherine Cummings
FACE Executive Director
Washington EMC owner/member

We own the screen rights to the movie

The story behind the long lingering proposed coal project Plant Washington reads much like a Southern Gothic novel. We’ve often been told that the work a handful of local citizens took up almost six years ago would make a great movie in the style of Erin Brockovich.

In an article published today by The New Republic, the plot line is laid out with layers of intrigue including family ties, political appointments, criminal charges, thousands of acres of land, money lost, and money to be made. I don’t think it spoils the end of this movie to say Plant Washington has been all about power, just not the kind that turns the lights on.

The best part of a film adaptation of our coal fighting adventures is that it allows for a generous cast of “seasoned” actors. I’m thinking Meryl Streep, Hal Holbrook, Sally Fields, Morgan Freeman, Ben Kingsley, Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, and Samuel L. Jackson would do us justice in a Robert Altman ensemble style film directed by Steven Spielberg. Pass the popcorn.

Is this the beginning of the Blame Game?

Today’s EPA ruling isn’t the reason Plant Washington won’t ever be built. It will, however, serve to drive home the fact that this project has always been  an exercise in bad business decisions in addition to the environmental and health impacts it would have on our area.

Supporters will say the EPA’s carbon control rules killed the plant. That will hardly be the case. The plant has never had a demonstrated need, and at every turn plant supporters have seen their weak arguments only grow weaker.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my 52 years,  and I’ll make plenty more in the future. Opposing Plant Washington isn’t one of them.

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.

‘Tis but a scratch

Five years ago there were 10 EMCs backing Dean Alford’s Plant Washington coal project. Now Alford has announced that there aren’t any EMCs left in the group, EMCs that had originally announced that they would own, operate, and buy power from the plant.

The little that we do know about Alford’s plans is that he still has Colorado based Taylor Energy Fund, LLC as a partner, but he won’t name any others. Nor has he announced any completed Power Purchase Agreements, which are critical to financing the project. Yet Alford continues to believe this project is viable.

I am reminded of the limbless Black Knight, who says to the sword yielding King Arthur,” ‘Tis but a scratch.”

Now the real work begins

The fight to stop Plant Washington is going to get very interesting because developer Dean Alford’s filings with the EPA will be subject to Open Records sunlight.

Alford claims he met EPA requirements to “commence construction” by midnight April 12 when he signed a boiler contract with IHI Corporation in Japan and a site erection contract with Zachry Industrial in the United States.

EPA “commence construction” requires more than signing a contract. Georgia EPD staffer Jac Capp told the Macon Telegraph earlier this month that commence construction, “means that the source has both ‘begun a continuous program of actual on-site construction’ and ‘entered into binding agreements or contractual obligations which cannot be canceled without a substantial loss.’

Last Saturday, a day drenched in brilliant sunlight, I drove past the plant site. There was a dead armadillo in the road, but except for some March storm damage, not much has changed on either side of the Mayview Road, which divides the plant site, since January 2008. The dirt roads crossing the plant have no tracks indicating heavy equipment has moved in for construction work ahead.

Meeting the requirement of a “substantial loss” will now require more than Alford saying there are “several” entities lined up for this project, which is all he offered to the Atlanta Journal Constitution in January 2012 when his largest backer, Cobb EMC walked from the project. Earlier this month Alford told the Macon Telegraph he has “way over the amount of money I need for this project.” Hopefully the contract documents will soon be made public so that we’ll finally get a chance to see what all this talk is made of, and who is willing to invest in it besides the latecomer to the game, designated hitter Taylor Energy Fund.

There are brand spanking new coal plants, some built and owned by EMCs, like Spiritwood in Minnesota, which have never powered a single light bulb because the operating costs were prohibitive. Other plants, like Prairie State in Illinois, have saddled ratepayers with higher rates before supplying them with any power.

Sure, I wish Alford had called it a day late last Friday night, but I am not surprised. He doesn’t live here, he doesn’t rely on the local groundwater when he wants a drink of water, and his grandchildren won’t be breathing Plant Washington toxins into their lungs when they play outside.

For those of us who have real skin in the game, the work has just begun.

You can’t take “way over” to the bank

Last Wednesday’s Macon Telegraph included coverage of the long-lingering proposed Plant Washington and developer Dean Alford’s race to meet an April 12 “commence construction” carbon pollution rule deadline set by the EPA almost a year ago.

Should someone call or email Alford? Maybe he missed exactly what the EPA said when it announced the carbon rule (see section 2.2.4). Maybe he hasn’t seen the EPA filings specifically about Plant Washington, or the news coverage and numerous web site postings in the past year pointing out that beating the clock on the April 12 deadline won’t help his no-bid project.

When the EPA announced the deadline, the agency said very clearly that to be exempt from the carbon rule, new coal plants had to have a final permit in hand.

Plant Washington didn’t have a final permit when the rule was announced.

So it isn’t exempt from the carbon emission rules when you get right down to what the EPA said. We all know from past playground experience, whoever makes the rules also gets to enforce them.

The EPA knows exactly when Alford got a final permit because last spring in another set of court filings pertaining to mercury emissions, the agency refers to Plant Washington’s lack of a final permit at the time the carbon rule was announced. The EPA’s filing included this, “The Power 4 Georgians’ (“P4G”) Project (Case No. 12-1184): Movants submit a declaration stating that “as of April 9, 2012, P4G has a final PSD permit and all other required permit approvals necessary to commence construction of Plant Washington.” Mot. Ex. H ¶ 5. This assertion is incorrect, inasmuch as state administrative challenges to the P4G permit remain pending.”

Ooops.

Other coal developers did get the news. They ran the numbers again for their projects as natural gas, and even wind and solar, gained more ground in the power generation market.

Like dominoes, developers began cancelling proposed plants, even in coal friendly states like Texas. The math just didn’t add up any longer. They couldn’t finance, build, and then sell coal-generated power for a profit. They said new coal can’t compete, and existing coal isn’t so cheap either. Beating an April 12 deadline wouldn’t help them. They couldn’t afford to go forward.

Despite the fact that the carbon rule does apply to Plant Washington (and Alford said that having to meet carbon rules would kill the project), Alford has continued talking up his project and making a lot out of meeting the April 12 deadline.

Earlier this week Alford continued the charade when he told the Telegraph “If I add up everybody I’m talking to, I’ve got way over the amount of money I need for this project.”

“Way over” must be A LOT of money, because conservative 2011 estimates, without carbon controls, put Plant Washington at a whopping $3.9B, almost doubling the original $2.1B estimate in 2008. I can’t imagine how many zeros would be added to a price estimate to engineer and control for carbon.

Alford is “talking to” utilities, private investors, pension funds and independent power producers. (Never mind that one doesn’t “talk to” pension funds, it is the fund manager who must be convinced to invest.) Power4Georgians (P4G) and Washington EMC also think there is no reason to be burdened by a pro forma study or independent market analysis to make the case to investors, so at least they aren’t having to trot out tried and true methods of return on investment to funders.

Oh yeah, “talking to” is also not the same as having power purchase agreements, contractors, an EPA approved boiler design, county issued bonds, or all the financing confirmed.

And in all this “talking to,” who is Alford saying will own this plant which will not only supply power to the power purchase customers, but also repay the debt owed in a timely manner?

When Alford announced Plant Washington in January 2008, he said it would be owned and operated by the EMCs in P4G. I heard it with my own ears because I was in the room. Alford even said that under oath in September 2010.

That all changed when his former employer, Cobb EMC, abandoned the project in January 2012. Alford made a final pitch at that meeting to keep his largest funding source engaged. The Marietta Daily Journal’s coverage last year included this from the Cobb EMC minutes, “Power4Georgians owns the permits but he (Dean Alford) stated that P4G never intended to build Plant Washington. He stated P4G’s goal has always been to obtain the permits needed and then sell them to any interested party that could build the plant.”

In January 2012 Alford told the AJC there were “hundred of entities” interested in this project. If the contracts were real, investors were lining up to get a piece of this project, and an owner had been secured, wouldn’t they have been paraded out by now?

The time for Alford and the four remaining EMCs to call it a day on Plant Washington is “way over.”

There’s no need to wait until April 12.

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.”

 

Tarbutton and Alford behind wildly unpopular Georgia Regents announcement

Rick McKee cartoon, Augusta Chronicle, August 7, 2012

Plant Washington profiteers Ben Tarbutton III and Dean Alford pal around at the taxpayer funded Georgia University Regents meetings, which Tarbutton chairs (Alford got a plum seat on the Board after Tarbutton ascended to its leadership)

Earlier this week, despite “widespread opposition” and a possible trademark law suit from the Virginia University Regents, Tarbutton’s board announced that Augusta State University, and the recently rebranded Georgia Health Sciences University, will now be called “Georgia Regents University.”

Regents Board Vice-Chair William NeSmith, who also serves as the area’s representative in the Georgia House, told the Augusta Chronicle, “To a person, I haven’t found anyone supportive in the 10th Congressional District that supports Georgia Regents University. It is widely unpopular to the people that I’ve talked to.”

Chris Gay, a sports writer with the Augusta paper, said this in an open letter to the Regents, “By naming this new school Georgia Regents University, you will essentially be naming this school after your own body. Which makes no sense. Why not name it “Georgia Board of Regents University” then? If you name it “Georgia Regents University,” we’re all going to add the word “Board” anyway. (And this is slightly off topic, but do you know what GRU is anyway? Have you seen the movie “Despicable Me?” If not, do a Google search.)

And the Georgia Regents response to what some might call outrage over the name announcement? Tarbutton essentially said, “Get over it.”

Tarbutton and Alford were mic checked in the spring when the Regents increased fees for students. Lately they can’t seem to drum up much support for Alford’s  no-bid coal plant which would be fed by the Tarbutton’s short line railroad.

Now, it seems they have made the entire city of Augusta, Augusta State Alums, and graduates of the Medical College of Georgia/Georgia Health Sciences University furious with their stubborn insistence on naming their alma maters after themselves.

 

 

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?