Jeff Amy
Jeff Amy covers Georgia politics and government.
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Georgia Power plan confirms move from coal to renewables

January 31, 2022 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Power Co. could shut down all but one of its coal-fired power plants by 2029 under a new plan filed Monday with the state Public Service Commission.

The unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co. filed its integrated resource plan, a document required every three years that tells regulators how Georgia Power plans to meet electricity demand from its 2.7 million customers over the next 20 years.

“You’ll have less coal generation; you’ll have more renewable generation,” Georgia Power CEO Chris Womack said of the plan in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “You’ll have a reliable and enhanced grid that is more resilient.”

Southern Co. has set a goal of 2050 to be a net-zero emitter of gases that cause global warming, mostly carbon dioxide. Environmentalists want the company to move move quickly.

Womack declined to say how much the plan might cost or how it would affect rates if approved by the Public Service Commission. He said those details would be saved for Georgia Power’s separate rate plan, scheduled for consideration later this year. However, it’s clear that some of the plans, such as transmission improvements to accommodate more renewable power, could be expensive.

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The document says Georgia Power could close down all of its coal plants by the end of 2028 except for two mammoth units at Plant Bowen in Cartersville. Most of those moves had already been announced in filings Southern Co. made last year. Georgia Power says it needs to keep burning coal until 2035 at the two Plant Bowen units to guarantee a reliable supply of electricity in metro Atlanta.

The company said it isn’t sure whether it will close two units at Plant Scherer near Juliette. Georgia Power says those units, largely owned by others, are economically “challenged” and it would prepare to close them by 2028 while looking for options to keep them open.

The company says that in the meantime, it will seek to build or buy more renewable energy in northern Georgia and plan for the region’s power transmission, generation and other needs to guarantee a smooth transmission.

Georgia Power plans to contract with Southern Power, another subsidiary of its parent company, for 2,400 megawatts of natural gas-generated electricity from 2022 to 2028, helping it to bridge coal plant shutdowns with a form of power that still emits carbon, but less than burning coal. The company says it would add 2,300 megawatts of renewable power by 2025 and a total 6,000 megawatts by 2035.

The company said it would build a battery storage facility in Cherokee County, allowing it to capture electricity and release it to the grid several hours later, important for matching the peaks of renewable generation to the peaks of demand. Womack also said Georgia Power wants to explore ways to store energy for several days.

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The company, which operates no wind generation in Georgia, will seek a pilot program to test supertall wind turbines in the state, Womack said.

The plan says nothing new about Georgia Power’s plans to clean up coal ash ponds at various locations statewide. The company had been planning to cap some of them in place, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recently said that is a misinterpretation of federal rules, despite approval by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, and that utilities must dig up all coal ash and store it in lined landfills where toxic heavy metals can’t seep into groundwater.

The company said it would seek to renew its license to operate the Hatch nuclear plant near Baxley. Georgia Power also said it would seek permission to overhaul three hydroelectric generating plants at Lake Sinclair, Lake Burton and the North Highlands Dam on the Chattahoochee River in Columbus.

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