Originally created 06/03/01

Bush energy policy will get early test in Georgia



ATLANTA - Rural Early County in extreme Southwest Georgia, far from the traffic-choked highways of Atlanta and the heavy industry of Augusta, boasts some of Georgia's cleanest air.

It's also where an out-of-state utility wants to build a coal-fired power plant.

"South Georgia, South Alabama and North Florida may be the only pockets of clean air left (in the Southeast) where they can get air permits," said Claude Bell, who helped form Friends of the Chattahoochee to make sure Early County residents' concerns about the project are heard.

"We're proud of our clean air down here. Now it seems like we're being set upon by vultures."

Georgia promises to be an early test for President Bush's new national energy policy, which calls for increasing the supply of electricity by building 1,300 to 1,900 new power plants.

During the past two years, the state Environmental Protection Division has received 22 proposals for power plants, 15 of which have received the necessary permits to begin operating. Ten more applications, including St. Louis-based LS Power Associates' Early County project, are expected in the next few months.

Before that recent flurry of activity, EPD typically received only one project proposal every few years, said David Word, the agency's assistant director.

"The last couple of years is nothing like the previous 10, 20 or 30 years," he said. "It is a dramatic shift in power production."

The situation is similar in other states in the rapidly growing Southeast, as utilities based in the region and elsewhere rush to build plants fast enough to keep up with the growing demand for electricity.

Georgia Power Co. alone is asking the Georgia Public Service Commission for 1,800 megawatts of new electricity generating capacity for 2003 and 2004, in addition to the 1,200 megawatts the utility has been authorized to bring on line next year. A megawatt is enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.

Raleigh, N.C.-based Carolina Power & Light fired up two power-plant units just last week, adding 1,100 megawatts to its generating capacity. That's twice as much power as has been brought on line in the entire state of California in the past decade, said Keith Poston, a spokesman for Progress Energy, the utility's parent company.

California's well-publicized power shortages have made it a poster child in the utilities' campaign to build more power plants.

"California and the Bush administration's focus on energy supplies have created fertile ground for new generation projects," Mr. Poston said.

But the rush to build is being stymied in Georgia, at least in the short term, by the EPD.

In a letter to applicants last month, Director Harold Reheis announced the agency was suspending its review of power-plant proposals for "several months" to allow it to develop a statewide strategy for permitting that takes into account the cumulative environmental effects of the various projects.

"We are very concerned about the proliferation of power plants proposed for location in Georgia," Mr. Reheis wrote.

Environmental advocates are worried about what emissions from an influx of new power plants would do to air quality in a state that already faces major air pollution problems. The Atlanta region long has been out of compliance with federal clean-air standards, and the cities of Augusta, Macon and Columbus are likely to fall out of attainment during the next few years.

Power-plant emissions are a major source of nitrogen oxide, a key component of smog-causing ozone. They're also a large emitter of particulate matter, fine particles such as dust and soot. Both forms of air pollution have been linked to health problems, including asthma and premature deaths.

Utility officials point out that the vast majority of the new power plants would be fueled by natural gas instead of coal. The Clinton administration, which generally received high marks from environmentalists, pushed natural gas as a cleaner-burning source of electricity.

"All of our new plants coming on line are natural gas," said John Sell, a spokesman for Georgia Power. "They have the most up-to-date emissions-control technology."

Water is another major concern surrounding the proposed projects.

"Power plants are very consumptive water users," said Judy Jennings of Savannah, conservation chairwoman for the Sierra Club of Georgia's Coastal Group, which is keeping an eye on two proposed power plants in Effingham County. "The aquifer here already is under pressure from over-pumping."

SkyGen Energy says it has come up with a solution to those water-use worries with its plan to build an 800-megawatt plant in Augusta by the summer of 2003. The utility, based in Northbrook, Ill., intends to use effluent from the city's sewer plant instead of drawing water directly from the Savannah River.

"We're looking at what is in the water to determine what type of equipment we'll need," project manager Kent Morton said. "We'll probably have the test results (this) week."

But environmentalists say such mitigating measures miss the big picture in that they simply give utilities a way to build more power plants that rely on fossil fuels to produce electricity.

Rita Kilpatrick, executive director of Georgians for Clean Energy, criticized the Bush energy plan for its dismissal of conservation. Vice President Dick Cheney, who headed the team that drew up the administration's policy, argued that conservation alone won't be enough to end what Mr. Bush has characterized as an energy crisis.

"Our energy crisis here is an energy-efficiency crisis," said Rita Kilpatrick, executive director of Georgians for Clean Energy. "We use a very high amount of electricity. Our consumption has grown at a much faster rate than our population. That's a problem we need to be concerned with."

Here are the 15 power-plant projects that have received permits from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) since 1998:

Plant........................Parent company.............County

Heard County Power..........Dynegy......................Heard

Louisville Gas & Electric...Louisville Gas & Electric...Walton

Mid-Georgia Cogenerating....GPE International...........Houston

Monroe Power................Carolina Power & Light......Walton

Murray Energy...............Duke Energy.................Murray

Plant Dahlberg..............Georgia Power...............Jackson

Plant Doyle.................ENRON.......................Walton

Plant Wansley...............Georgia Power...............Heard

Sewell Creek EMC............Oglethorpe Power............Polk

Smarr EMC...................Oglethorpe Power............Monroe

Southeastern Generating.....Morgan Stanley..............Decatur

SOWEGA Power................Cornerstone Operations......Mitchell

Tenaska.....................Tenaska.....................Heard

Tiger Creek.................Louisville Gas & Electric...Washington

West Georgia Generating.....SONAT.......................Upson

Pending projects

Below are the seven projects with applications pending before the EPD:

Plant.........................Parent company............County

Augusta Energy................SkyGen Energy.............Richmond

Macintosh.....................GenPower..................Effingham

Monroe Power..................Carolina Power & Light....Effingham

Peace Valley..................ABB Energy Ventures.......Muscogee

Sandersville Station..........Duke Energy...............Washington

Talbot Energy.................Oglethorpe Power..........Talbot

WR Clayton....................MEAG......................Walton

Source: Georgia Environmental Protection Division

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.