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

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

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?

Senators Chambliss and Isakson: Let me introduce you to my family

Dear Senators Chambliss and Isakson,

I have had the pleasure of meeting both of you when you have met with constituents in Sandersville. I haven’t had the opportunity to bring any of my family with me so I hope you will allow me to tell you a little bit about them.

My husband and I moved back to his home county 25 years ago because we wanted to live in a rural community and be near family. We raised two daughters outside tiny Warthen,  in an old farm house we restored with considerable sweat equity. We are fortunate to have two incredibly energetic grandchildren Ella, 5 1/2 years old, and Chase, 4 1/2 years old, who live nearby.

Ella making pottery, Spring 2012
Chase helping his dad at a volunteer firefighters equipment repair work day

Now that you have met my two grandchildren, I hope you will consider my concerns on behalf of Ella and Chase, the five grandchildren you have Senator Chambliss, and your nine grandchildren Senator Isakson.

The other day both of you voted to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to enforce the Mercury and Air Toxins Rule, known as MATS. These emission standards weren’t the result of fly-by-night or stealth regulatory work by the EPA. Instead, they were announced in 1990 as additions to the Clean Air Act.

Twenty two years is a long time for citizens to wait on cleaner air and the cleaner water which results from less pollution in the air. It was long enough for me to give birth to my younger daughter and raise her to the age of 22. Her entire lifetime has been spent breathing air that could have been cleaner a long time ago.

Mary Michael, Georgia Southern, May 2012

 I just can’t figure out why, after all the medical, scientific, and financial research done by numerous respected institutions and individuals which shows just how harmful mercury and heavy metals emissions are to fetuses, growing children, and anyone with asthma or cardiopulmonary disease, that anyone would agree it should go on any longer. Or the research that demonstrates that the tougher standards would actually create approximately 8,000 permanent jobs and up to 45,000 temporary ones.

Yet both of you chose to stand up and say with your votes, “Yes, I support the continuation of dirty air and water for American citizens, including my grandchildren.”

I did a little research so that I might understand why you voted as you did.  The Southern Company’s Georgia Power, which owns and operates Plant Scherer near Juliette, and emits the most carbon pollution in the country, was the second largest donor with a total of $102,650 in the 2011-2012 election cycle, to your campaign committee Senator Chambliss (that ought to be helpful if you run for re-election in  2014).

Senator Isakson
, the Southern Company was third on your donor list with $28,050 to your campaign in the 2011-2012 election cycle (on the heels of the $38, 350 donation for your re-election in 2010).

Where you trying to help your donors who are burning an awful lot of coal with your vote opposing tougher mercury rules?

Or maybe that vote would help clients using the law firm King and Spalding (K&S). Those attorneys represent a group called Power4Georgians that wants to build a coal fired power plant in Washington County. Senator Chambliss, K&S helped your campaign with $58,000 in donations, putting them at a respectable sixth on your list. Senator Isakson, they didn’t ignore you either. K&S is eighth on your donor list with $31,250.

It goes to figure that some local folks in Washington County would support your respective campaigns. I found out some of the neighbors at my farm have done exactly that. Ben Tarbutton (no middle initial or other identifier) has donated $3,000 so far to the Chambliss campaign in the 2010-2012 cycle. Several Tarbuttons have donated $9,300 to the Isakson campaign since 2009. Those family members include Ben Jr., Benji, Charles, Betsy, Gena, and Hugh.

It’s no secret since Plant Washington was announced over four years ago that the Tarbuttons have been vigorous supporters of Plant Washington. It’s also public knowledge that Charles Tarbutton, who personally donated $1,000 to the Isakson campaign in 2009, is a member of the Georgia Power Board of Directors.

There are 10 directors on the Georgia Power Board. There are seven members of the Tarbutton family who have donated to your respective campaigns since 2009. If we consider corporations to be people (per the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling), then the number of interested parties in these two groups plummets from 17 to 8. A single digit.

Almost 24 percent of the 21,187 people living in Washington County are under the age of 18. In the state of Georgia, there are over 2,500,000 children under the age of 18. The math should work out in favor of the children and votes in favor of upholding the MATS rule.

My grandchildren are among those 2.5M children who deserve cleaner air to breathe. Your grandchildren deserve the same, in whatever state they live in. My children deserved cleaner air when they were growing up. Yours did too.

So please tell me, when does the health of the children come first ahead of the money and influence of donors?

Public health professionals wear green

“You’ve done more public health work than most public health professionals” is high praise coming from Russ Toal, the former Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. The fight to stop Plant Washington, for me, began out of deep concern for the health ramifications that a coal fired plant would have on the health of my community and my family.

Together with partners that include national, regional, state, and local organizations, we have seen two coal fired power plants cancelled since December (Longleaf and Ben Hill). A third project, Plant Washington, is now hobbled with new emission regulations, so that what was tenuous at best, now looks absolutely unfeasible.

Fighting coal for me, is all about public health. The health of our communities is directly tied to the quality of the air we breathe, the clean water we all want to to drink, fish that are safe to catch and eat, and the rivers and streams where we want our children to splash and swim. Not surprisingly, health organizations including the American Lung Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, American Thoracic Society and others have taken strong positions on coal and climate change.

I’ll give the Plant Washington supporters some credit. They do have some things they can point to since they announced the plant over four years ago:

  • 5 of the 9 original EMCs have withdrawn from the project
  • the former CEO of Cobb EMC, Dwight Brown, who led Power4Georgians, has 35 indictments against him for his dealings at the co-op
  • emissions standards for coal have become much more rigorous and expensive
  • demand for electricity is down
  • natural gas prices have plummeted
  • wells and rivers are stressed by drought
  • co-op owner-members across Georgia are angry about being shut out of the co-ops they own

This morning I told two county commissioners, Frank Simmons and Edward Burton, and county administrator Chris Hutchings, “Shame on you.” They have been busy toeing the line in this one family county for outdated, expensive, and unhealthy coal, while other communities have courted renewable energy based companies and hundred of jobs that will not harm their air shed or deplete stressed water supplies.

While elected officials, and business and community leaders here still cling to coal, local residents have seen a solar panel plant opened in neighboring Laurens County (approximately 400 renewable energy jobs have been announced there, and people are already at work). In two weeks, Elbert County to our north, will hold a ribbon cutting for a wind turbine plant that is already employing some of the 200 people it will tap for jobs.

In the mean time, FACE and our partners have worked tirelessly to see the proposed mercury emissions for Plant Washington drop from the original 122 lbs per year to 1.63 under the new Mercury and Air Toxins standards. Reports by the megabyte have been released about the higher power bills Washington EMC members will have to pay if the plant is built, the ready and plentiful supply of cheap electricity in our state, the risks to local wells if 16 million gallons of water per day are sucked out of the ground to feed Plant Washington, and the fact that our air shed will be placed in non-attainment, essentially putting a cap on any business locating here that would need to apply for an air permit.

I don’t know how much longer plant supporters can keep their heads in the sand because the clock is running for the developer of this no-bid project. Dean Alford is about to need a lot more money for his relic of a coal plant. Come on P4G, show us the return on this great investment you have promised us.