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

Home Office

The Friday Photo
November 14, 2014

Rose Hill, est.1852, Lockerly Arboretum, Milledgeville, Georgia
Rose Hill, est.1852, Lockerly Arboretum, Milledgeville, Georgia

For over four years I’ve worked from a home office. There are a lot of great things about working from home: laundry gets done, soup simmers for lunch, no one walks by and distracts you from the task at hand, and the dress code is pretty flexible. There are still deadlines, meetings, and convincing the printer to print, but working from home has been a really good situation for me.

I’m still working from a house, but not the one I live in. Just as Life Is a Verb Camp approached, the place where I hoped to figure out the questions to finding a job for life after fighting Plant Washington, I was offered a job.

Now I’m working from an above ground basement office in a fabulous Greek Revival house built in 1852, Rose Hill, surrounded by Lockerly Arboretum, a public garden in Milledgeville, Georgia, as the Executive Director.

I’m no less committed to stopping Plant Washington, but due to the determination and success of FACE and our partners, the demise of the ill-fated coal plant is now a matter of time. No one who opposes Plant Washington is letting their guard down, but the writing is on the wall and our work locally will continue as it always has.

Being an environmental activist in a small community has been one of the most difficult, and exciting, things that I have ever happened upon. I knew if we won, one outcome would be working myself out of a job that had changed my life for the better.

I didn’t make a habit of inviting people to come see me in my home office, but I’d be glad for anyone to stop by and see the house where I am working in now.

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.

Is Washington County becoming a mecca for renewable energy?

Governor Deal has announced that General Biofuels will build a $60M facility in Washington County to manufacture wood pellets for fuel production in Europe. As European countries shutter both coal and nuclear and switch to renewable fuels sources, the demand of wood pellets continues to create business here in the United States. The plant will be located just blocks off Highway 15 on Waco Dr., and production is slated for early 2014 according to Deal’s office.

This plant will employ 35 people and also benefit other local businesses both during and after construction (i.e. work boots and clothing, meals out, all types of office and plant facility supplies, safety training). All of these jobs are the direct result of companies using renewable fuel sources.

Business will increase for Sandersville Railroad and Norfolk Southern as these two rail lines will move the pellets to the Port of Savannah for shipping overseas. What I have said  many times over bears repeating here: I am glad to see a business succeed, including the Tarbutton’s privately held railroad.  I can’t support Plant Washington because the project will harm the air, water, and health of local residents near the plant as well as downwind and downstream. Plant Washington is a good example of putting personal profits ahead of a community.

Charles Lee with the Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Development Authority told me he can’t provide information on public facility bonds or tax abatements as those details are still in negotiation. Regardless of the project, I urge the County Commissioners to carefully consider all projects involving taxpayer dollars.

Local citizens need to pay attention as well. The county can issue bonds through the Public Facilities Authority without any taxpayer input except comments that citizens may make at a county commission meeting. Voter approval is not required for issuing these types of bonds.

There is still a lot to learn about General Biofuels. At face value it is certainly a much more progressive and promising economic option for Washington County and our neighbors than coal, for which local leaders should be commended.

 

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?

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?

You’re only as good as the company you keep

“You’re only as good as the company you keep” is something all of us probably heard growing up. It holds true for adults just as much as impressionable teenagers.

If the company you keep says a lot about you, then Dean Alford’s choice of business partners raises serious questions. Yesterday Alford announced that Taylor Energy Fund LLC is joining Power4Georgians (P4G). Tim Taylor’s company is based in Colorado but the Secretary of State’s website there shows no record of the company. Taylor joins forces with Alford, a private business partner with Dwight Brown, who awaits trial on 35 indictments pertaining to his time at Cobb EMC and Cobb Energy.

What plant opponents have learned about Mr. Taylor’s business history is less than encouraging.

In 2007 five men working at the Cabin Creek power plant in Colorado were killed in a tragic fire. Tim Taylor was President of Colorado Service Company (part of Xcel Energy), the company which owns the facility where the men died. The Denver Post coverage includes this quote from Greg Baxter, a regional administrator of the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration, “This catastrophe could have been avoided if the companies had followed their critical safety procedures. There should never be such a disregard for the safety of employees.”

Mr. Taylor’s approach to company finances should also make Washington EMC  (WEMC) and other P4G co-op owner members take notice. In 2009, Xcel, under Taylor’s leadership,  made multiple requests to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for rate increases to pay for construction costs in advance (much like GA Power is doing for Plant Vogtle). One request to the PUC was for $180.2M and it came on the heels of recent rate increases customers were already paying according to the Denver Post.

EMC members should note that Taylor had to take his rate request to a government utility  commission for approval. EMC rates do not go before the Georgia Public Service Commission. The Board of Directors at OUR co-op, the one we own and belong to, but must request permission to attend monthly meetings or get information about operations, sets our rates.There is no one to appeal to but them.

WEMC owner-members need to ask our Board of Directors who they are choosing to “keep company with” before the first shovel of dirt is moved, or we are told to expect bigger power bills.

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.

Cobb EMC abandons coal and chooses solar power generated in Washington County!

What a week for clean air and water in Georgia! We started the week with the cancellation of the proposed coal plant Ben Hill near Fitzgerald, and Plant Washington will have to comply with stricter standards for mercury and other toxic air emissions IF it is ever constructed.

Now the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released the Greenhouse Gas rule (carbon pollution rule, or GHG), making Plant Washington’s fate even less certain. Because Power4Georgians does not yet have a final permit for construction, hasn’t made final design or engineering determinations, and has yet to secure financing for the multi-billion dollar facility, it appears Plant Washington is subject to the GHG rule. That means Plant Washington will be even more expensive and much less practical to finance, construct, operate, or return any investment to the four remaining co-op owner-members.

What options does our community have for affordable electricity? Cobb EMC, which dropped Plant Washington in January, has just inked an agreement to buy 10MW of power generated from the clean and abundant sunshine we have right here in Washington County!

Cobb EMC leaders did the math on Plant Washington and accepted the fact that it just wasn’t a cost effective investment for their co-op owner-members. After putting out requests for new power contracts, they decided in favor of clean, abundant, and job creating renewable power.

Renewable energy puts people to work. Washington County residents are already working at MAGE solar panels in Laurens County, where 350 people will be employed. Another Lauren County facility using wood waste will employ 55 people. Elbert County citizens are already working at some of the 200 jobs announced for a wind turbine company in their county.

Washington EMC Directors, elected officials, and business leaders, your former partner in Power4Georgians has done its homework and found that solar is affordable and reliable after all. It is time you did your homework too.

WEMC has a 10MW contract expiring in 2014. Give us a sound business plan that supports dirty outdated coal as the best option for our community, when solar is available just down the road.

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.

Talking out of both sides of your mouth

Since the end of January Plant Washington has been a hot topic at barber and beauty shops, grocery store lines, and church. In just over three months time local residents of Washington County, Washington EMC owner-members, and others involved in Power4Georgians (P4G) have read in newspapers and online various, and often conflicting, versions of what’s going on with the proposed dirty coal plant.

Recently, the Marietta Daily Journal reported on the minutes of the Cobb EMC Board of Directors meeting on January 24, 2012: “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.”

On the heels of this eye-popping revelation, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy released Follow the Money,  a report outlining and charting the complicated and circuitous connections among Plant Washington supporters.

This week The Sandersville Progress has an article about the remaining four EMCs in P4G. The article reports that all calls to the remaining four EMCs were unreturned or they declined to comment. Not one member of Power4Georgians will speak out in support of the project that has cost over 25 million dollars. . Central Georgia EMC referred the reporter to Dean Alford, and said that he will answer provide a statement for the co-op.

EMC owner-members, at least at my co-op, have long felt shut out and distanced from the Board of Directors. I doubt they will be any happier with our co-op’s leaders saying that our questions should go directly to Alford- or remain unanswered.

Dapper Dean isn’t on the Board of Directors at WEMC or any of the other EMCs. None of the owner-members have ever had a chance to vote for him, or the money and water sucking coal plant he continues to insist we need.

The members of these Board of Directors need to be mindful that they accepted a fiduciary responsibility for co-op operations, and that Plant Washington certainly falls in that category. They can’t necessarily count on being shielded by the co-op if they do their jobs poorly.

What am I doing to be a good co-op owner-member? I have sent information to them as well as questions. I’ve asked for answers via letter to the local papers and here in this blog.

Since the end of January I have emailed the officers of Washington EMC-Frank Askew (CEO), Wendy Sellers (CFO), Mike McCoy, (Board Chair), and Billy Helton (my rep to the Board) each three times (I finally got an email address for Mike McDonald, another board member, who was copied in the third email I sent).

I got one response from Mr. Helton concerning news about Dwight Brown’s legal battle with Cobb EMC over $2.1M he thinks his former employer owes him, and an article on  profits soaring 20 percent since 2008 at King & Spalding, the law firm representing P4G (Plant Washington was announced in January 2008)

And now, in this week’s Sandersville Progress (which isn’t available onlinethe paper reports that none of the EMCs involved in P4G will answer questions from  reporters. Instead, Dean Alford speaks for them.

So, to smooth out some of this tangled mess: leaders at Washington EMC want Dean Alford, who testified under oath in 2010 that the P4G EMCs intend to own and operate Plant Washington, but according to the Cobb EMC January 2012 Board Minutes, Alford told Cobb EMC leaders that P4G never intended to own or build the plant. And now WEMC leaders have chosen Alford to speak for them.

And just to remove any doubt about the ownership of Plant Washington, Dean was quoted in the Marietta Daily Journal immediately after the plant was announced over four years ago, saying, “These 10 cooperatives (P4G)… are building this facility — 100 percent used by them, for them, — to keep energy rates affordable.” (I can’t find any record of him disagreeing with the quote).

Developed, built, and owned by the EMCs- or not. Do the leaders in Washington County and our EMC know?

 

You may own us, but we won’t let you in

The Friday Photo
A weekly photo inspired by spontaneity, art, and community.
February 24, 2012 

The sun was shining brightly on the sign at my electric co-op yesterday.
It needs to shine brightly on operations and decisions made there.
The owner members must request, in writing, permission to attend
any part of a board meeting.
It is the same as owning your own company
(because the customers are the owners)
but being told you can’t come to the Executive Committee meetings.

 

Flannery O’Connor could have written this

Today the team I play on stepped our game up to a higher level. We started together to stop Plant Washington, a coal plant supported locally by the Tarbuttons (Southerners know to how things happen in a “one family county.”). The more my friends and neighbors, along with our partners, learned about our respective electric co-op’s  governance and business relationships, the more tangled the story line became.

This story is set in a rural community blanketed with tall trees, a black water river, and, because it is the rural South, a swamp. Another chapter was published today, and this one has a picture that outlines the characters and the plot.

The plot picked up again this morning. Some of the characters left early on in the story. Others held on into the fourth year since the story outline was announced in Sandersville. One of the lead characters, Dwight Brown, awaits trial on 35 indictments which include racketeering, theft, making false statements, and witness intimidation. At least one forensic audit is in the near future which may reveal yet more intrigue.

The story isn’t over, but this much is certain: it hasn’t played out like the writers announced in late January 2008. Flannery O’Connor loved a good plot twist too.