Coal-fired Georgia plants lead nation in greenhouse gas emissions, EPA data show

The EPA’s new compilation of heat-trapping gases shows that U.S. power plants are responsible for about 72 percent of the pollution blamed for global warming, with Southern Company’s Plant Scherer in Juliette, Ga., at the top of the list that includes about 6,700 of the nation’s industrial pollution sources.

Southern Company’s mammoth coal-fired power plants lead the nation in greenhouse gas emissions, according to an Associated Press analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data, but similar facilities closer to Augusta yield significantly lower pollution levels.

The EPA’s new compilation of heat-trapping gases shows that U.S. power plants are responsible for about 72 percent the pollution blamed for global warming. Southern Company’s Plant Scherer in Juliette, Ga., is at the top of the list, which includes about 6,700 of the nation’s industrial pollution sources.

Scherer reported releases totaling 22.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010, the most recent year for which complete data are available. Ranking second on the list was another Georgia facility, Southern Company’s Plant Bowen in Cartersville, which reported slightly more than 21 million metric tons.

The company responded to the analysis by pointing out that while the plants are major emitters, they are also among the largest facilities of their kind – and have undergone costly improvements that have helped reduce many types of pollutants while simultaneously increasing the volume of electricity produced.

“Southern Company has invested $8.1 billion in environmental controls since 1990 and plans to invest at least an additional $1.2 billion through 2013 to further reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

The company is also a national leader in the development of cleaner technology and is managing the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Carbon Capture Center in Alabama, testing the next generation of technologies to capture carbon dioxide emissions.

Southern Company does not operate coal-fired power plants near Augusta but is planning a $14.8 billion expansion of nuclear Plant Vogtle in Burke County, Ga., where two new reactors are planned.

The new units, which are awaiting final construction and operation permits from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, would be the first such facilities to be built in the U.S. in a generation, and would produce 1,100 megawatts of power apiece – without burning coal – when they become operational in 2016 and 2017.

The closest coal-fired power plant to Augusta is South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.’s Urquhart Steam Generating Plant in Beech Island. That facility, built in 1953, underwent a major overhaul a decade ago in which natural gas burners replaced some of the coal-fired boilers, reducing the use of coal by up to 1,400 tons per day.

According to the EPA data released this week, Urquhart’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 totaled 1,191,079 metric tons.

Another coal-fired facility closer to Augusta is Savannah River Site’s D Area electric plant, which emits 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide fumes, 400 tons of particulate pollution and 3,500 tons of sulfur dioxide per year.

That facility, built in the early 1950s, is scheduled to be closed later this year when its power production needs are replaced by a modern biomass steam plant completed in December in the site’s F Area.

That project, which will supply almost half the electricity consumed across the facilities at the SRS, will burn about 322,000 tons per year of wood chips and shredded tires to produce up to 20 megawatts of power. The plant’s main contractor, Ameresco, has a 20-year, $795 million contract to build and operate the site.

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