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Nation’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas to be downsized in 2022, near Macon

David Pendered
Plant Scherer is to lose one of its four coal-fired steam power generators by Jan. 1, 2022, under terms approved by unit's owners. Credit: Steve Tanner, Chris Zabriskie, Sky Riser Aerials via YouTube

By David Pendered

The nation’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas is to see one of its four coal-fired power units close by Jan. 1 2022, at Plant Scherer near Macon. Cleanup at this one unit is expected to take 46 years.

Plant Scherer is to lose one of its four coal-fired steam power generators by Jan. 1, 2022, under terms approved by unit’s owners. Credit: Steve Tanner, Chris Zabriskie, Sky Riser Aerials via YouTube

The closure is expected to result in a sharp drop in CO2 emissions. The projected decrease is 64 percent by 2024, relative to the peak in 2007. This amount includes emissions from replacement sources of electricity, according to terms of the transaction that was approved June 26.

Plant Scherer produced 16.7 million metric tons of CO2 in 2018, according to the most recent report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The plant burns subbituminous coal that’s mined in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and transported by Norfolk Southern Corp. The coal provides power to steam generators that create electricity.

The owners also predict a sharp drop in the cost of producing power. The unit once was the lowest-cost provider in their system. Now it is the most expensive provider in the network operated by JEA and Florida Power and Light Co., according to terms.

Plant Shererer is the facility that was the subject of protests at the state Capitol this year.

Residents of the town of Juliette, where the plant is located, came to Atlanta seeking legislative relief for hazards. Cobalt and boron has been detected in groundwater around the plant, according to findings in a 2018 report released by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice. The Legislature did not enact regulations to address the concerns.

Plant Scherer emitted 16.7 million metric tons of CO2 in 2018. Emissions have been falling since 2013. Credit: ghgdata.epa.gov, David Pendered

Georgia Power operates Plant Sherer and is an owner. Other owners are Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, Oglethorpe Power, Gulf Power, and the City of Dalton.

JEA, a partial owner of the unit to be closed, observed in a statement:

  • “JEA will lower operating costs, substantially reduce operating risks, and reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 1.3 million tons per year. The transaction also provides a pathway to significant expansion of solar energy in the near future.”

The Sierra Club’s Stephen Stetson, a senior campaign representative with the organization’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a statement:

  • “This is a clarion call that even the nation’s biggest coal plants don’t make economic sense. The Florida utilities understood that they needed to be out of Plant Scherer, and now the remaining owners of the plant … need to follow along and retire their interest in dirty coal-fired electricity. This is a perfect opportunity to re-invest in new, sustainable jobs for communities near power plants, and we hope re-training and transition assistance will be prioritized in the next coming months.”

The environmental cleanup at Unit 4 is expected to last until 2066, terms show.

Total cleanup costs at Unit 4 are projected at $57.6 million, according to the terms. This cost is part of the reason that the Florida operators have decided to close the facility that JEA has co-owned since Plant Scherer opened. Together with operating costs, the facility is no longer cost effective. The terms make repeated references to the cost of operating the facility, including these:

  • “Long the lowest-cost dispatch unit, Scherer is now the most expensive dispatch unit….
  • “Scherer is now the most expensive dispatch unit – approximately $6/MWh higher than Northside 1 and 2, over $10/MWh higher than combined cycle energy….
  • “Replace Scherer capacity and energy with system purchase from FPL – saving approximately $8M/year….
  • “Still responsible for current environmental conditions – but we already are.”

The environmental ramifications include the following, as outlined in the terms:

“Will avoid cost of future environmental upgrades. These are currently estimated to be as follows:

  • “Effluent Limitations Guidelines (ELG) Cost:
  • “2021-2024 – $8.2M
    “But remain obligated for the following environmental costs:
  • “Ash Pond Cost:
  • “2021-29 – $30.2M
  • “2030-66 – $19.2M
    “Environmental Benefits of replacement product include:
  • “Lower CO2 emissions (projected 1.3M tons/year less emissions by 2024, a 64% reduction relative to the peak in 2007.”

 

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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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