Georgia and coal

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Georgia had 46 coal-fired generating stations in 2005, with 14,594 MW of capacity - representing 39.9% of the state's total electric generating capacity, and making Georgia the 8th biggest coal energy producing state in the U.S.[1] In 2006, Georgia's coal-fired power plants produced 82.0 million tons of CO2, 619,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 109,000 tons of nitrogen oxide; coal-fired power plants were responsible for 48.8% of the state's total CO2 emissions.[2] In 2005, Georgia emitted 18.5 tons of CO2 per person, slightly less than the U.S. average.[3] Despite its heavy reliance on coal energy, Georgia has a lower-than-average carbon emissions rate, mostly due to its reliance on natural gas (34.6%), nuclear (11.1%), and hydroelectric (10.1%) power generation.[1]

Georgia, Coal and Carbon.

No coal was mined in Georgia in 2006.[4] In May 2010 the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report titled, Burning Coal, Burning Cash: Ranking the States that Import the Most Coal. In the paper the group reported that Georgia was the most coal dependent state in the country, spending $2.6 billion on coal imports in 2008.[5]


Coal was first mined in Georgia in the 1830's; coal miners were among the first white settlers in northwest Georgia. Georgia's coal industry was decimated by the Civil War, after Northern armies destroyed factories to which Georgia's mines had been supplying coal. The industry was revitalized in the 1880's, however, and small-scale coal production continued for about a century. Today, however, the state has recoverable coal reserves of only about 2 million tons, and no coal has been mined in the state since the mid-1980's.[6]

The coal power industry, on the other hand, is very powerful in Georgia: 17 coal-fired generating stations - representing 73% of the state's coal electric capacity - were built in Georgia during the 1970's and 80's, and the most recent was built in 1998. However, in June 2008, a state superior court blocked the air permit for the Longleaf power plant that had been planned for Early County, Georgia; the court, citing a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision which held that CO2 is a regulatable pollutant, ruled that Longleaf's developers had failed to limit CO2 emissions from the proposed plant. The future of this plant - as well as POWER4Georgians' Washington Plant and Ben Hill Plant - is now uncertain.[7]

Citizen activism

On May 10, 2010 Georgia environmental groups filed two petitions to set up hearings to challenge permits for two major proposed coal-fired power plants in the state. Attorneys from GreenLaw and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), acting on behalf of seven citizens’ groups, are fighting the proposed plants with claims against the water and air pollution permits proposed for Washington Plant, to be built in Sandersville, Georgia and against the air pollution permit for Longleaf Energy Station, to be built in Early County, Georgia.[8]

Citizen groups

Focus the Nation: Valdosta State University

Legislative issues

Repeal of state energy tax, 2011

State utility regulators asked the state legislature to remove "burdensome" energy taxes in Oct., 2011. Public Service Commission Chairman Stan Wise said Georgia companies energy costs are 5 percent or 6 percent higher than those in other states where there is no energy tax. Georgia is one of 10 states in which manufacturers pay a sales tax on energy. The Georgia tax is 4 percent with varying local amounts. [9]

Mountaintop Removal coal moratorium proposal, 2009

House Bill 276, proposed by Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), would put a 5-year moratorium on building new coal plants and eliminate the burning of Appalachian coal mined by mountaintop removal by mid-2016. The Appalachian Mountain Preservation Act would gradually prohibit Georgia coal consumers from using Central Appalachian mountaintop removal beginning in 2011. The bill is backed by environmental groups including Appalachian Voices but received strong opposition from POWER4Georgians, a coalition of 10 electric co-operatives seeking to build a $2 billion 850-megawatt supercritical coal plant in Washington County.[10][11] The proposal did not pass.

Coal waste

The 2011 report, "State of Failure: How
 Ash" by Earthjustice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, looked at EPA data and found that state regulations are often inadequate for protecting public health. Georgia’s coal ash ponds rarely undergo regulatory inspections, although 13 of 29 ponds are at least 40 years old.

TVA shipping coal ash from Tennessee disaster to Georgia and Alabama

TVA at the Crossroads, produced by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

In a test case, some of the coal ash waste that spilled in TVA's Kingston plant disaster is being sent to Georgia and Alabama. TVA is loading it onto rail cars, where the company says it will be safely contained.[12]

In Georgia, the coal waste is being shipped to the Veolia landfill in Taylor Count, about 100 miles south of Atlanta. Local residents have dubbed the dump site "Trash Mountain." Sierra Club representative Mark Woodall said the landfill is poorly suited to coal ash storage, because it is "located in a groundwater recharge area, and it's a danger to our groundwater resources in Georgia."[12] In Alabama, a landfill in Perry County in the west central part of the state is also receiving ash shipments.[13]

The ash will be transported from Tennessee to the out-of-state landfills through May 15, 2009. State and federal officials will evaluate whether the tests are successful, and if so whether to bring in more of the TVA coal waste.[12] Just days after news of the test shipments were announced, EPA decided to take over cleanup of the spill. The agreement between EPA and TVA, which was executed under the Superfund law, has EPA overseeing the cleanup and TVA reimbursing EPA for its oversight costs.[14]

Landfill selections raise environmental justice concerns

Both the Georgia and Alabama landfills are located in areas with higher rates of poverty and higher percentages of African-American residents than state averages, a situation that has raised concerns about environmental justice. In Taylor County, more than 24 percent of the population lives in poverty, and over 40 percent of the population is African-American; by contrast, the state as a whole has a 14 percent poverty rate and is 30 percent African-American. Perry County in Alabama has more than 32 percent of its residents living in poverty and a 69 percent African-American population, compared with the state as a whole, which has a poverty rate of over 16 percent and a 26 percent African-American population.[13] Perry County District Attorney Michael Jackson criticized the EPA for allowing TVA to dispose of ash at a landfill in a poor community in Alabama, calling the decision "tragic and shortsighted." He vowed to monitor the disposal site to ensure the process complies with environmental regulations.[15]

Reports show that TVA also considered moving the coal ash to two communities in eastern Tennessee, both of which have populations of well over 90 percent white residents and poverty rates of under 21 percent. The two Tennessee sites considered were Athens in McMinn County and Oneida in Scott County. However, the company sought approval from state regulators solely for the sites in Georgia and Alabama. The communities that are receiving the coal waste from TVA were not provided an opportunity for public comment on the decision.[13]

EPA releases list of 44 "high hazard" coal ash dumps

In response to demands from environmentalists as well as Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, the EPA made public a list of 44 "high hazard potential" coal waste dumps. The rating applies to sites at which a dam failure would most likely cause loss of human life, but does not include an assessment of the likelihood of such an event. Georgia has one of the sites, which stores coal combustion waste from Harllee Branch Generating Plant and is owned by Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power.[16][17] To see the full list of sites, see Coal waste.

Scherer Coal Station

Georgia's Scherer Steam Generating Station consistently ranks as one of the dirtiest in the nation.

In a 2009 list of the 100 most polluting coal plants in the United States in terms of coal combustion waste, based upon the EPA's 2006 Toxics Release Inventory data,[18] the Scherer Station ranked number four with 4,114,502 pounds of waste released to surface impoundments in 2006.[13]

According to a 2009 report by Environment America, based upon Environmental Protection Agency data, the Scherer Station is the highest carbon dioxide emitter in the nation, releasing 27.2 million in 2007.[19]

Scherer plant highest CO2 emitter in nation, Georgia eighth highest emitter in U.S.

A 2011 report by the Environmental Integrity Project, "Getting Warmer: US CO2 Emissions from Power Plants Emissions Rise 5.6% in 2010" shows that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants in the U.S. rose 5.56 percent in 2010 over 2009, the biggest annual increase since the EPA began tracking emissions in 1995. In total, electricity generators released 2.423 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2010, compared to 2.295 billion tons in 2009. The report is based on data from the EPA’s “Clean Air Markets” website, which tallies emission reports from electric generators.

The 10 worst states for CO2 pollution identified in the report are, in order, Texas, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri. Texas power plants released nearly 257 million tons of CO2, as much as the next two states - Florida and Ohio - combined, and more than seven times the total CO2 emissions from power plants in California. Texas opened three new coal plants toward the end of 2010, with a combined capacity of 2,156 megawatts.

Coal-fired boilers provided 45 percent of U.S. electricity in 2010, but were responsible for 81 percent of total CO2 emissions from electricity generation in 2010.

Other key report findings include:

  • 50 coal-fired power plants accounted for 750 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2010, or about a third of the total. The two largest carbon polluters, the Scherer and Bowen power plants in Georgia, together released more than 48 million tons of CO2 in 2010. By comparison, emissions from all power plants in California were 37.1 million tons; in New York, 40 million tons; and in the six states of New England, 40.5 million tons.
  • Coal-fired generation rose 5.2 percent in the 12 months ending November 30, 2010. Nearly 4.5 gigawatts of new coal-fired electric generation came online in 2010, about half of that in Texas. But power companies have also announced plans to retire almost 12 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity within the next few years, including the announcement in Jan. 2011 that Xcel would close nearly 900 megawatts of coal-fired capacity at four different power stations in Colorado.

In January 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a new website that identifies most of the nation's biggest emitters of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases. Two Southern Company coal plants near Atlanta are identified as the biggest contributors to U.S. global greenhouse gases - the Scherer Steam Generating Station in Juliette and Plant Bowen west of Cartersville, respectively.[20]

Longleaf cancelled

On December 12, 2011, the Sierra Club announced a legal agreement between LS Power and Sierra to cancel Longleaf, a 1200 MW proposed coal plant in Georgia, and Plum Point II, a 665 MW proposed coal plant in Arkansas. In addition, as part of the agreement, Sierra dropped its opposition to the Sandy Creek Plant in Texas and LS Power agreed to stricter air pollution controls at Sandy Creek. Sierra Club noted that Longleaf, which had first been proposed in 2001, was among the first coal plants among the hundreds of coal plants proposed -- and mostly defeated -- in the recent coal boom.[21]

Washington Plant Permit Issues

Plant Washington: Coal vs. Water

On April 8, 2010, the Environmental Protection Division issued final permits for operation of the Washington Plant, green-lighting construction of the $2.1 billion coal-fired power facility near Sandersville in middle Georgia.[22]

Cobb Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) is joining five other state EMCs to build the 850-megawatt plant, which will supply electricity to an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 Georgia homes. The facility would be the first power generator owned by the six EMCs, which now purchase their energy from wholesalers, allowing them to own and operate their own plant and sell energy to themselves.[22]

Power4Georgians, a consortium of state EMCs including Cobb EMC, has been working for more than two years to obtain the permits.The plant will take about four years to complete after construction begins, which has not yet been determined, as Power4Geogians is waiting to see if anyone will challenge the issuance of the permits. There are 30 days since the date of the issuance of the permits to file a specific concern with a state administrative law judge, who would have about 150 days to consider the challenge. Georgians for Smart Energy and the Sierra Club are expected to file concerns.[22]

July 2010: Washington Plant Water Permit Denied

On July 26, 2010 Administrative Law Judge Ronit Walker rejected two water permits for the Washington coal-fired power plant in Sandersville, GA. The permits were issued by Georgia's Department of Environmental Protection.

"Taking on average 13.5 million gallons per day out of the Oconee River and pumping into a plant in the Ogeechee River basin and transferring the 11-percent left over, she found that fell within the type of activities known as Interbasin transfer," said Brian Gist, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law center.[23]

June 2011: Washington Plant Water Permit Settlement Reached

On June 15, 2011, Power4Georgians settled with environmental groups and agreed in court to monitor the river temperature, to install a data recorder and a continuous monitoring device.

As initially issued, the water permit contained no limit on the temperature of the plant’s discharge into the river. Raising temperatures artificially and suddenly can harm fish which are acclimated to the normal water temperature in which they live. The revised permit will limit the thermal impacts to 90 degrees or 5 degrees above ambient river temperature and it will require comprehensive monitoring of the plant’s discharge, said Brian Gist, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law center.[24]

Nov. 21, 2011 Washington Plant Final air permit issued

The Environmental Protection Division re-issued an air quality permit for the Washington Plant after Power4Georgians addressed issues identified nearly a year ago by a judge. Construction is now expected to begin in 2012 or 2013. Four environmental groups argued that the EPD permit didn't force the plant to use the most effective air pollution controls. [25]

Proposed coal plants



Coal lobbying groups

Coal power companies

  • Southern Company
    • Headquarters in Atlanta, GA
    • Owner of Georgia Power Co.
    • Biggest coal energy producer in U.S.
    • Controls 68 coal-fired generating stations with 26,610 MW total capacity
    • Active proposals: Kemper Project, FutureGen
  • Mirant
    • Headquarters in Atlanta, GA
    • 20th biggest coal energy producer in U.S.
    • Controls 18 coal-fired generating stations with 4076 MW total capacity
  • Dynegy / LS Power
  • POWER4Georgians, owned by ten state electric membership cooperatives

Existing coal plants

For a map of all existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.

Georgia had 46 coal-fired generating stations in 2005, with 14,594 MW of capacity - representing 39.9% of the state's total electric generating capacity.

Here is a list of coal power plants in Georgia with capacity over 400 MW:[1][26][27]

Plant Name County Owner Year(s) Built Capacity 2007 CO2 Emissions 2006 SO2 Emissions SO2/MW Rank
Scherer Monroe Southern Company 1982, 1984, 1987, 1989 3564 MW 25,300,000 tons 74,205 tons 152
Bowen Bartow Southern Company 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975 3499 MW 20,500,000 tons 206,442 tons 39
Wansley Heard Southern Company 1976, 1978 1904 MW 11,900,000 tons 96,200 tons 47
Harllee Branch Putnam Southern Company 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969 1746 MW 7,551,000 tons 95,990 tons 35
Yates Coweta Southern Company 1950, 1952, 1957, 1958, 1974 1487 MW 6,095,000 tons 75,476 tons 22
Hammond Floyd Southern Company 1954, 1955, 1970 953 MW 4,098,000 tons 40,579 tons 29
Jack McDonough Cobb Southern Company 1963, 1964 598 MW 3,213,000 tons 28,835 tons 45

These 7 plants represent 94.2% of Georgia's coal energy generating capacity, 46.9% of the state's total CO2 emissions, and about 81% of the state's total SO2 emissions.[3]

Georgia and old coal plants

A 2012 Union of Concerned Scientists report, "Ripe for Retirement: The Case for Closing America's Costliest Coal Plants," found that 353 coal-fired power generators in 31 states — representing up to 59 GW of power capacity — are no longer economically viable compared with other energy sources. Georgia topped all states on the list, with 22 coal units that can produce 34.7 million megawatt hours of electricity a year at Crisp, Mitchell, Kraft, Harlee Branch, Bowen, Hammond, and Yates power plants. All but one are owned by Georgia Power.[28]

Proposed coal unit retirements

In March 2011, Georgia Power announced that it expects to request approval from the Georgia Public Service Commission to decertify two coal-generating units 1 and 2 at the Harllee Branch Generating Plant, totaling 569 megawatts. The company expects to ask for decertification of the units as of the effective dates of the Georgia Multipollutant Rule, which are currently anticipated to be Dec. 31, 2013 for unit 1 and Oct. 1, 2013 for unit 2. GP said the costs of upgrades would be uneconomical for its customers. The commission is expected to vote on the decertification request in spring 2012.[29] Georgia Power confirmed the retirements at the Harllee Branch Generating Plant in July, 2011, and added that one more unspecified unit would be shut down in the company's system. [30]

In April 2011, the University of Georgia said it would shut down the university's 45-year-old coal-fired steam boiler. They are considering alternatives, including biomass and solar. [31]


Solar in Georgia

Proposed Renewable Portfolio Standard -- Georgia should consider requiring utilities to generate a larger percentage of energy from alternative sources such as solar, even if it costs consumers another nickel a month, a state utility regulator said October 18. While many other states have adopted renewable portfolio standards, Georgia and most other Southeastern states have not. According to the Atlanta Journal, Public Service Commissioner Bubba McDonald said such a standard would beef up the currently undervalued market for solar in Georgia and open the market for new investors. His views were challenged by PSC Chairman Stan Wise. "Historically this commission has taken a position that a ‘renewable portfolio standard' is a choice that has not been right for Georgia," Wise said. [32]

Removing legal obstacles -- Pete Marte of ‘Hannah Solar’ says an old state law is stifling Georgians’ ability to use solar energy, and will help lead a push to get lawmakers to change it. A 1973 law prohibits anyone from selling power except to a utility. While Georgia utility companies say they need the law to protect their investments, laws in other states and in Europe have encouraged third party sales. [33]

Bio-coal facilities in Georgia

Georgia's "Bio-Energy Corridor" [34] added two"bio-coal" plants in 2011:

  • On May 5, 2011, Vega Biofuels announced that the Company's "bio-coal" manufacturing plant is to be located in Crisp County, GA. Target markets are said to be power plants around the world that face mandates to increase biomass usage in their coal burning power plants. [35] On June 13, 2011, Vega announced it had secured funding for the project. [36]
  • On May 12, 2011, Georgia Biomass LLC opened its wood pellet production plant in Waycross, GA. It will produce 826,000 tons of "wood coal" per year, most of which is contracted for export to power plans in Europe.[37] The $200 million plant is a venture of major German utility RWE and its bioenergy subsidiary, RWE Innogy, and is a small part of the $8 billion a year RWE invests worldwide. The company operates more than 50,000 gigawatts of power capacity. One major customer is RWE's existing coal-fired plant in Tilbury, United Kingdom, which is being converted to biomass and would become the largest biomass-fired power plant in the world. [38] The plant was shut down after an explosion June 20, 2011. No one was hurt, and production resumed July 12. [39]

Another biomass energy plant, proposed for DeKalb, GA by Green Energy Partners, won preliminary approval June 13, 2011, despite protests. [40]

"Bio-coal" is a relatively new commercial process involving "torrefaction" of biomass energy. [41] The collapse of the global biodiesel market and bankruptcies in the US ethanol industry are among reasons for the rise of the "biorefinery" concept, according to Biofuels Digest. [42]

Major coal mines

There are no coal mines in Georgia.[43]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States, 2005, Energy Information Administration, accessed April 2008.
  2. Estimated Emissions for U.S. Electric Power Industry by State, 1990-2006, Energy Information Administration, 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Georgia Energy Consumption Information, eRedux website, accessed June 2008.
  4. Coal Production and Number of Mines by State and Mine Type, Energy Information Administration, accessed June 2008.
  5. "Burning Coal, Burning Cash" Union of Concerned Scientists' Report, May 18, 2010. Cached copy at
  6. Georgia, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, accessed July 2008.
  7. Georgia Court Cites Carbon in Coal Plant Ruling, Reuters, June 30, 2008.
  8. "Legal Challenges Filed to Stop Georgia's Coal Rush", May 11, 2010.
  9. "Regulators asks Georgia lawmakers to repeal energy sales tax," Atlanta Journal, Oct. 14, 2011.
  10. "Georgia bill proposes moratorium on new coal plants," Reuters, February 4, 2009.
  11. Margaret Newkirk, "Bill would restrict coal power plants," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 4, 2009.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Jim Burress, "Coal Ash from Tennessee Disaster Making its Way to Georgia Landfill," WABE, May 8, 2009.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Sue Sturgis, "Dumping in Dixie: TVA sends toxic coal ash to poor black communities in Georgia and Alabama" Facing South, May 12, 2009.
  14. "EPA to Oversee Cleanup of TVA Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant Release," Environmental Protection Agency, May 11, 2009.
  15. "Alabama DA reviewing options on coal ash decision," WTVM, July 7, 2009.
  16. Shaila Dewan, "E.P.A. Lists ‘High Hazard’ Coal Ash Dumps," New York Times, June 30, 2009.
  17. Fact Sheet: Coal Combustion Residues (CCR) - Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings, Environmental Protection Agency, June 2009.
  18. TRI Explorer, EPA, accessed January 2009.
  19. "America's Biggest Polluters: Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Power Plants in 2007" Environment America, November 24, 2009
  20. David Ibata, "Study: Southern Company plants are 3 biggest greenhouse gas emitters" Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 11, 2012.
  21. "Longleaf Cancellation Marks End to Nation's Longest Running Fight Against Coal Plant," Sierra Club press release, December 12, 2011
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Brandon Wilson,"Ga. OKs Plant Washington construction" The Marietta Daily Journal, April 9, 2010.
  23. "Judge Rejects Permits For Coal Plant" PBA Online, July 26, 2010.
  24. "Water Permit Settlement Reached on Proposed Coal Plant" GreenLaw, June 16, 2011.
  25. Georgia re-issues final Plant Washington permit, Associated Press Nov. 21, 2011.
  26. Environmental Integrity Project, "Dirty Kilowatts: America’s Most Polluting Power Plants", July 2007.
  27. Dig Deeper, Carbon Monitoring for Action database, accessed June 2008.
  28. Heather Duncan, "Georgia leads nation in power from outdated coal units," The Telegraph, Nov. 14, 2012.
  29. "Georgia Power Announces Plans to Decertify Two Coal Generating Units" PR Newswire, March 16, 2011.
  30. Kristi E. Swartz "Georgia Power says it will close 3 power-plant units" Atlanta Journal and Constitution, July 11, 2011.
  31. "Less fired up about coal, UGA seeking alternative" UGA Office of Sustainability, April, 2011.
  32. Kristi E. Swartz, "PSC official wants push for renewable energy"Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Oct. 17, 2011.
  33. Edgar Treiguts, "Solar Industry to Push Lawmakers," Georgia Public Broadcasting, Oct. 18, 2011.
  34. Georgia Bio "Forbes Ranks Georgia as Third Best State for Alternative Energy from Biomass"July 11, 2008.
  35. PR Newswire "Vega Biofuels to Produce Green Energy Bio-Coal in Timber Rich Crisp County, Georgia" May 5, 2011.
  36. Atlanta City Business "Vega Biofuels Secures Interim Financing For Green Energy Bio-Coal Plant" June 13, 2011.
  37. "Georgia Biomass opens for production"Atlanta Business Chronicle, May 12, 2011.
  38. "Largest Pellet Plant Opens at Waycross" Georgia Biomass press release, May 26, 2011.
  39. Teresa Stepzinski "Overheated assembly caused Georgia Biomass explosion" Florida Times Union, July 13, 2011.
  40. April Hunt "Biomass proposal draws protesters, wins DeKalb support" Atlanta Journal, June 14, 2011.
  41. Torrefaction "Torrefaction" Wikipedia.
  42. Jim Lane, "The Integrated Biorefinery: the rise of BioPower," Biofuels Digest, June 15, 2011.
  43. Major U.S. Coal Mines, Energy Information Administration, accessed June 2008.


Existing coal plants in Georgia

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