Middle Georgia EMCs free from further Plant Washington investment

hduncan@macon.comJuly 16, 2012 

Middle Georgia electric cooperatives won’t be asked for any further investment in a new coal-fired power plant planned for Washington County.

Power4Georgians announced that the cost of bringing Plant Washington to construction has been taken over by Colorado-based private investment group Taylor Energy Fund LLC. If built, the 850-megawatt plant, estimated to cost $2.1 billion, would be the first coal-fired plant built in Georgia in more than a quarter century.

The project was once completely funded by a group of 10 Georgia cooperatives led by Cobb EMC, and its slogan is “affordable power for Georgians, by Georgians.” But one by one, the majority of the EMCs pulled out, many citing what they saw as uncertain future costs and regulations associated with coal.

Taylor Energy first signed on in April, taking over Cobb EMC’s 40 percent stake in the project after Cobb pulled out. The Taylor Energy Fund is managed by Tim Taylor, who retired two years ago as the president and CEO of Public Service Co. of Colorado, that state’s largest energy provider.

“Tim stepped in with the understanding at the time that he’d have the right to exercise an option to continue and expand his role,” said Dean Alford, whose company, Allied Energy Services, is developing the Plant Washington project.

Last week the four remaining cooperatives -- Central Georgia EMC, Washington EMC, Upson EMC and Snapping Shoals EMC -- signed a deal releasing them from future capital commitments and providing them with a preferred position when the plant’s eventual owner sells the power produced, he said.

Alford said he could not disclose whether Taylor Energy is now a majority owner in Power4Georgians. He said the four EMCs still have representatives on the board.

“Details of that deal are not public,” he said. But Taylor Energy “is obviously a more substantial partner.”

While with Public Service Co. of Colorado, Taylor was heavily involved in the construction of the $1.3 billion Comanche Plant (unit 3) in Colorado, a coal-fired power plant of similar size to Plant Washington, that was completed in 2010.

According to the Denver Post, Xcel Energy (Public Service Co.’s parent company) raised its rates ahead of time to help foot the bill for building the Comanche Plant. In the past six years, Xcel’s energy rates in Colorado have risen at double the rate of inflation, the paper reported.

Taylor Energy Fund was registered as a Georgia limited liability company in March. The phone number for its local registered agent, Ryan Taylor, has been disconnected, and its Colorado address is a post office box. Alford declined to share any contact information for Taylor.

Alford said he didn’t know how much more cost would be involved before construction financing is in place.

“During construction financing, someone could come in and be much more in a position of calling the shots than Taylor or the co-ops,” he said, emphasizing that it is unknown who will eventually own and operate the plant. But he said any contractual obligations to the cooperatives for their past investments will be part of any purchase deals.

Plant Washington has all its state environmental permits, but the extent of its environmental requirements is not entirely clear. Alford has said the plant will be exempt from new carbon emissions limits if it breaks ground by April 2013, because it was permitted before the new rules were finalized. But the plant was still facing legal challenges, and at least one court filing by the federal Environmental Protection Agency seems to indicate that it might not be exempt.

Opponents of the plant, most of whom voice concern about the plant’s potential air pollution and water use, had been urging the cooperatives to pull out of the project. Alford said none of the remaining four cooperatives was planning to leave Power4Georgians before the Taylor deal.

Katherine Cummings, executive director of the Sandersville-based Fall Line Alliance for a Clean Environment, said the EMCs now need to demonstrate that they’re going to recoup the money they’ve invested in the project.

Leigh-Ann Burgess, communications specialist with Snapping Shoals EMC, said the EMC has committed about $3.7 million to land and $7.5 million to permitting for the plant. She said the EMC will receive a return on its capital once the plant is built.

Ab Roesel of Conyers is running for a seat on the Snapping Shoals EMC board this month partly because he is frustrated that EMC members have not been able to get clear answers about the EMC’s current role and its investment in Plant Washington.

“All we’ve got is questions,” he said. “Part of my reason for running is to get transparency in the government of Snapping Shoals.”

Alford said he would check with other EMCs to find out whether they are willing to release information on their investments in Plant Washington, but he did not respond by Monday night.

To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.

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