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.

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?

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.