Originally created 12/01/99

CEO blasts federal suits



Georgia Power Co.'s top executive spoke out Tuesday against a Justice Department lawsuit alleging the company ignored pollution controls at two coal-fired electric plants.

"I can tell you pretty comfortably that we have not done that," said David M. Ratcliffe, the utility's president and chief executive officer, during the joint annual meeting of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.

Lawsuits filed earlier this month by the Justice Department on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta accuse the utility's parent company, Southern Co., of making major modifications without installing equipment to control smog, acid rain and soot.

Similar lawsuits were filed against six other utilities in the Southeast and Midwest. Georgia Power's coal-fired plants in question are located near Macon and Cartersville.

Mr. Ratcliffe said he believes the suit is the Clinton administration's attempt to "shut down" coal-fired electric plants. About 75 percent of Georgia Power's electricity is generated by burning coal.

"I have a personal belief this is about politics," he said. "When you see us attacked at this level, I hope you remember who we are and our reputation."

Mr. Ratcliffe said the company will incur more than $700 million in environmental-related capital expenses during the next five years.

The Tifton, Ga., native also told the group of local business people that Georgia is about three to five years from electricity deregulation.

He said he believes the federal government won't address the issue in 2000 because it is an election year. Plus, the state is too busy wrestling with natural gas deregulation.

"The legislature doesn't have any appetite simply because they've been beat up over what has happened with natural gas," Mr. Ratcliffe said.

He reported the utility has successfully completed its four-year Y2K program, adding its systems operated correctly during year 2000 simulations in September.

He said a systemwide failure on New Year's Eve is unlikely but normal occurrences, such as downed power lines and lightning strikes, could always disrupt service in some areas.

"We feel we're in pretty good shape, but I'm not going to promise people their lights aren't going to flicker," he said.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486.