Georgia Power closing Milledgeville area Plant Branch, costing more than 200 jobs

Jobs to be eliminated through retirements and transfers

hduncan@macon.comJanuary 7, 2013 

In another blow to the Milledgeville-area job market, Georgia Power announced Monday it intends to close its Plant Harllee Branch entirely by 2015.

The company already had received approval in March 2012 for its plan to retire two of the four coal-fired generating units at Branch by December 2013. But as part of the three-year planning process required by the Georgia Public Service Commission, Georgia Power also will be asking to close the final two units at Plant Branch, as well as 13 other coal- or oil-fired units totalling 2,061 megawatts.

The plant, in Putnam County on the border with Baldwin, employs 229 people, said Georgia Power spokesman Mark Williams. He said the company plans to achieve all reductions through retirements or transfers to other plants owned by Georgia Power or its parent, Southern Co.

“We recognize the significant impact that these retirements will have on the local communities, and we took that into account when making these decisions,” said Georgia Power President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Bowers in a news release. “These decisions ... are necessary in order for us to maintain our commitment to provide the most reliable and affordable electricity to our customers. We are in the midst of a significant transition in our fleet that will result in a more diverse fuel portfolio -- including nuclear, 21st century coal, natural gas, renewables and energy efficiency.”

The Public Service Commission will have to approve the changes as part of Georgia Power’s integrated resource plan, which must be filed by Jan. 31.

In a news release issued Monday, Georgia Power said the units were being retired because of the cost of complying with existing and future environmental regulations, forecasted economic conditions, and lower natural gas prices.

The final two units at Plant Branch would close by April 2015, because that is the date when they would have to comply with the new federal mercury and air toxics standard, Williams said.

He said the company has not decided what it will do with the plant site, including its coal ash waste storage areas and landfills, but it does not plan to generate power there again.

Baldwin County economic development officials said Monday’s news is disappointing, given how hard that part of the state has been hit with closings.

“I don’t think that this took anyone by surprise, but now that it’s definitive, it’s kind of a kick in the gut,” said Matt Poyner, executive director of the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Development Authority. “With them leaving our area, it’s another challenge to get over. Milledgeville has been hit pretty hard over the past three, four, five years, with (the closings of) the mental hospital, the jails, Rheem air conditioning. It’s an unfortunate thing to happen to this area, but this community keeps on fighting.”

Poyner said it’s not just the full-time positions that his organization worries about but also the contract workers employed at the plant as well as the restaurants nearby.

April Bragg, president and chief executive officer of the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber of Commerce, said it’s difficult to estimate the economic impact it will have on the area.

“The call to notify us about any closure is one we never want to get,” she said. “We can plan all we want, but only time will tell. ... There’s no real way to quantify (the economic impact).”

Williams said because of its age and limitations in its efficiency, the 1,016-megawatt plant did not compete well with some of Georgia Power’s other coal-fired power plants, like Plant Scherer in Monroe County, which are receiving expensive upgrades to their pollution controls to keep operating.

Although the possibility had been discussed at public meetings in the last year, Monday marks the first time Georgia Power officials confirmed the complete closure of Plant Branch.

The units, the final unit of which began power production in 1969, were among those identified as “ripe for retirement” in a November report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The report compared the cost of upgrading pollution controls at old coal-fired units to the cost of shutting down those units and switching to natural gas or cleaner sources such as wind power.

It faulted Georgia Power as owning the most outdated generating capacity of this type in the nation: 22 units, including units at Kraft and Yates that the company now also is proposing to shut down.

Telegraph writer Phillip Ramati contributed to this report.

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