Judge strikes permits for coal plant

ATLANTA — Georgia’s environmental regulators failed to properly review a proposed power plant’s plan before giving it permission to take water from the Oconee River and use it in another river basin, according to a judge’s ruling announced Monday.

Administrative Law Judge Ronit Walker’s decision also struck down another water permit allowing Power4Georgians LLC, a consortium developing Plant Washington, to monitor discharged water at a retention basin instead of where it will ultimately flow back into the river.

Her ruling signed Friday sends the disputed permits for Plant Washington back to the state’s Environmental Protection Division, lawyers said. The medium-sized plant would be built in Sandersville to supply power for six energy cooperatives that serve suburban and rural customers around the state. EPD Director Allen Barnes said through his spokesman that he received the ruling Monday and would not comment on it until reviewing it further.

A coalition of environmental groups want Plant Washington stopped because they say it will contribute to air pollution and violates rules about water usage. The power plant needs water so it can cool the steam that would run its electric turbines.

But the plant would take water from the Oconee River and pipe it 30 miles to the power plant site, which is in the Ogeechee River basin. In her ruling, the judge said that transfer should have triggered additional reviews required under state law.

A consortium of environmental groups challenging the project described the ruling as encouraging. The state can still appeal the judge’s decision.

“We must engage in growth that is based on the resources we actually have, not the resources we wish we had,” said Justine Thompson, executive director of GreenLaw, in a written statement. “No longer can one water user take water from one basin and use it in another basin without considering whether or not there is better use of those water resources in the basin.”

Dean Alford, president and CEO of Allied Energy Services, a development firm that’s part of a consortium backing the plant, did not believe the ruling would significantly impact the plant’s construction. The consortium will agree to monitor wastewater at the discharge site to satisfy part of the judge’s ruling, he said.

“The issue for our environmental friends has always been to delay,” Alford said. “Obviously, this adds some delay to the plant, but it has no long-term impact on whether we move forward.”