Georgia Power pulls plug on Plant Branch on Lake Sinclair

With its smokestacks rising up from the shores of Lake Sinclair, Plant Harllee Branch was once the shining star of Georgia Power’s electricity industry.

What became the state’s first million-kilowatt power plant in 1969 is sputtering out of existence.

“I’ve got mixed emotions about it. It’s been part of the lake forever,” said Joey Roland, who manages Little River Park across the bridge from the coal-fired plant. “It’s a great landmark. Whenever you leave and come back into town, you know you are almost home.”

Georgia Power shut down the last of four units to meet Thursday’s deadline to comply with new Environmental Protection Division regulations.

A cost analysis showed installing the necessary equipment was not economical for the company, which announced the closure in 2013 and set a date for April 15.

At the time, 229 people were employed at the plant on the man-made lake, which separates Putnam and Baldwin counties.

It was named for Harllee Branch Jr., Georgia Power’s fifth president, who was in charge during the company’s greatest growth period.

“Some employees are still at the plant, and we will lean on them during the demolition process,” said Brian Green, a spokesman for Georgia Power, who did not give an exact number of workers staying. “We made a commitment to work with employees wanting to stay on, to find another position in the company.”

Future plans for the property are still being finalized, but buildings and the smokestacks will come down, Green said.

The owner of Haslam’s Marina, southwest of the plant, said boaters might be lost without the tall towers.

“That’s a focal point of Lake Sinclair, the smokestacks, for navigation,” Al Haslam said. “A lot of times the guys will get up the river, and they can turn back and know where to go.”

No time frame has been given for demolition, Green said.

Pres Haslam, Al’s son, said rumors abound about what’s next.

“It’s an impressive plant,” he said. “I think the people who will be the saddest are the taxpayers of Putnam County because (Georgia Power) has been a major share in their tax base.”

The utility company will continue to pay annual property taxes of about $1.5 million dollars to Putnam County, down from $4.5 million in 2013 before closure plans were announced.

Georgia Power built the lake for the plant, which opened in 1965.

Property managers, like Roland, pay lease payments to the utility, which will maintain the lake.

“They’re not going to walk away from that gold mine,” Roland said.

He will miss contract workers who often would fill some of the 130 sites in his 17-acre RV park.

He expects it to be much quieter.

“It’s a very noisy plant. I won’t miss that part,” Roland said.

Those living closest to the plant also could see a drop in water temperature.

“The plant uses the lake to cool down the plant. The water is very hot and heats up the lake,” he said. “That’s why you see a lot of people fishing by those buoys. Fish are like us. They like to go warm up a little.”

Some days, it was too warm.

“In the summer time, there were times when I’d see nothing but white bellies over there when the water got too hot,” he said.

Roland expects the utility to continue providing quality lake management.

“I have to give them credit,” he said. “They always have done a good job of it, too.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.