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Plant Washington receives draft permits

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division issued draft permits Tuesday for Plant Washington, a proposed $2 billion coal-fired power plant to be built on a 1,200-acre site north of Sandersville.

Power4Georgians, the coalition of six electric cooperatives behind the plant, first applied for the environmental permits in January 2008. Required before the plant can begin operation, the permits outline the amount of air and water pollution the plant can produce; put limits on the amount of water it can withdraw from the ground and the Oconee River; and describe how the plant will deal with its solid wastes, such as coal ash.

No new coal-fired power plants have been built in Georgia in 25 years. Because coal-fired power plants are major emitters of ozone-causing pollutants, fine particles that can scar the lungs, greenhouse gases and mercury, they have become more controversial in recent years.

“I’m very disappointed EPD is issuing a draft permit,” said Cathy Mayberry, a retired Sandersville elementary school principal whose family owns land next to the proposed plant site. “After South Carolina canceled the Santee Cooper Plant, we were very hopeful Georgia would follow their lead.”

The proposed Santee Cooper coal-fired power plant was abandoned Monday, with its leaders citing the down economy, looming federal carbon regulation and a potential agreement to buy power from another company.

Katherine Cummings, president of the Fall-line Alliance for Clean Energy (FACE), said Power4Georgians had pointed to Santee Cooper as a model. FACE is a Sandersville-based group opposing Plant Washington.

Power4Georgians leaders have said repeatedly that there isn’t enough power produced in Georgia to meet the anticipated need of its member cooperatives.

Four of the 10 original co-op partners, including some of the largest, pulled out of the project this year, citing concerns similar to Santee Cooper’s.

Dean Alford, whose company, Allied Energy Services, is developing the power plant, said the tough economy will rebound and demand will only increase by the time the plant is built.

PUBLIC MEETING IN OCTOBER

Justine Thompson, executive director of Atlanta-based GreenLaw, said the firm’s national experts would be reviewing the permits. GreenLaw, teaming with other environmental organizations, filed the lawsuit that has held up another proposed Georgia coal-fired plant, Plant Longleaf in Early County.

Depending on the content of the final Plant Washington permit, Thompson said her firm is also prepared to sue Power4Georgians.

“Anyone who challenges this permit (in court), all they’ll do is add to the cost that ratepayers have to pay,” Alford said.

A public meeting to answer questions and hear comments about the permits will be held 6 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Ridge Road Elementary School cafeteria in Sandersville. An official public hearing will follow Oct. 20 at the same time and place.

Alford said the draft permits are not significantly different from the company’s original proposal.

But there were some changes. For example, Alford said Power4Georgians agreed to shift its water withdrawal location to a different spot on the Oconee River to protect spawning areas of the endangered robust redhorse fish.

Plant Washington proposes to withdraw 16 million gallons of water from the Oconee River daily. When the river is low, water would be pumped from 15 ground water wells.

Kevin Farrell, assistant Watershed Protection Branch chief, said extensive groundwater monitoring and modeling showed that this would have only minimal and acceptable impacts on the aquifer.

Jac Capp, manager of the EPD Stationary Source Permitting Program, said air modeling demonstrated that Plant Washington would not cause significant worsening of air quality in nonattainment areas, such as Macon and Augusta, which have dangerous air pollution levels.

And it would not cause other counties to slip into nonattainment either, he said.

Power4Georgians voluntarily reduced its proposed emissions levels during the permit review, and the EPD lowered the mercury limit from what the company had proposed, Capp said.

Alford and others said the EPD indicated it was waiting to issue the Plant Washington permits until after an appeals court ruling on Plant Longleaf. That ruling found that the state did not have to issue carbon dioxide limits for the plant. Plant Longleaf’s draft air permit contains none of these limits, either.

A coalition of environmental groups is asking the Georgia Supreme Court to take up the Plant Longleaf case and overturn the ruling.

After the public comment period, which ends Oct. 27, the EPD will decide whether to issue the final permit. For the Plant Longleaf project, that took an additional six months, Capp said.

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

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