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Coal ash: Ga. Power’s new disposal fee should be reviewed, Sierra Club says in court filing

David Pendered
Georgia Power intends to store coal ash in unlined basins near the Coosa River at its Plant Hammond, near Rome. File/Credit: Hunter Nichols via SELC

By David Pendered

The Sierra Club on Thursday asked a Fulton County Superior Court judge to order the state’s utility regulator to review its decision to allow Georgia Power to raise rates to pay for the disposition of coal ash – in part because terms of disposal are still pending approval from the state.

Georgia Power intends to store coal ash in unlined basins near the Coosa River at its Plant Hammond, near Rome. Credit: Hunter Nichols via SELC

The Sierra Club contends in its filing that Georgia Power’s customers should not be charged for the disposal of coal ash before the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has ruled on the company’s plan to dispose of coal ash. The EPD’s decision could draw legal opposition, further delaying cost estimates of disposal.

Georgia Power contends that the Sierra Club hasn’t done its homework in opposing the disposal plan. The company contends in a Jan. 21 response to the Sierra Club’s initial complaint:

  • “The fundamental flaw in Sierra Club’s argument is not that Georgia Power didn’t provide sufficient cost detail in this proceeding, but that neither Sierra Club nor its witness conducted a sufficient review of the available information.”

The Sierra Club’s petition does not ask for the court to halt a rate hike that has already appeared in the bills of at least some customers. It does ask the court to order a review of a portion of the rate hike that relates to the disposal of coal ash.

At issue is the approval by the Georgia Public Service Commission to approve Georgia Power’s plans to recover the costs associated with the long-term storage of coal ash. Georgia Power intends for its customers to pay an estimated $619 million over three years to manage the ash, according to the PSC’s final order, entered Feb. 6.

This ash is the residue of coal burnt to make electricity. A number of federal reports state that it contains toxic metals and materials. Environmentalists demand coal ash be beneficially recycled or stored in lined basins. Georgia Power plans to store coal ash at some of its power plants in basins that are not lined.

The PSC approved the rate hike in its final order, regarding the PSC’s vote Dec. 17, 2019 to approve the rate hike requested by Georgia Power. The rate hike related to costs of disposing of coal ash is part of a broader request.

The Sierra Club contends in its petition that Georgia Power can’t properly estimate the cost of disposing of coal ash before Georgia EPD approves the company’s disposal plan.

The petition observes of the PSC decision:

  • “[T]he Final Decision ensures that Georgia Power’s customers are paying for coal ash costs that are indefinite, uncertain and could change depending on the outcome of Georgia EPDs review of the Coal Ash Ponds closure plans, closure plans which Sierra Club’s expert, Mark Quarles, stated were noncompliant with both state and federal CCR regulations.”

In  its ruling to deny the Sierra Club’s initial request to reconsider its decision, the PSC cited Georgia Power’s position:

  • “For the reasons set forth in Georgia Power’s Response, the Commission finds and concludes that Sierra Club has not shown good cause for the Commission to reconsider its decision. The issues raised in the Motion for Reconsideration were already considered and adjudicated in the underlying proceeding. Accordingly, the Commission finds and concludes that the Motion for Reconsideration should be denied.”

 

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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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