As 2015 draws to a close, we wanted to update you on where our major Southeastern utilities are in terms of decreasing their reliance on dirty, coal-fired power. This blog series is following up on a previous series in 2013. (You can view our previous Southeast Coal Roundup blogs here – Tennessee Valley Authority, Southern Company and Duke Energy and other Southeastern utilities).
In the 2015 Southeast Coal Roundup blog series, we are happy to report that the transition away from coal in the Southeast continues – cleaning up our air, water and atmosphere and leaving room for development of more renewable energy generation resources and more robust implementation of energy efficiency measures. Retiring and removing these old, dirty coal units from service will help to improve Southerners’ way of life by improving overall public health and saving ratepayers from the burden of expensive coal plant retrofit expenditures. Our first blog in the 2015 series covered the Tennessee Valley Authority’s movement away from coal. Now gather around the campfire to learn about Southern Company’s coal fleet.
Alabama Power Company has been slower to retire coal units, lagging behind many of its Southern neighbors in recognizing the bad economic reality of coal-fired power. In fact, last year the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report showing that wind power would be cheaper than continuing operation of Alabama coal plants. As covered earlier, Alabama Power did announce the conversion of two of its coal plants to burn natural gas, but it left the option open to convert these plants back to coal in the future. Plant Gadsden (138 MW) switched to burn natural gas in 2012 and Plant Gaston is set to convert four units (1061 MW) to burn natural gas in 2016.
In August 2014, Alabama Power announced that it would retire two older units (250 MW total) at its Gorgas plant in Northeast Alabama. In the same announcement, Alabama Power also agreed to convert its Plant Greene County (2 units – 568MW) and three units at Plant Barry (850 MW) to burn natural gas. Since then, one Barry unit (272 MW) has been slated for retirement instead, leaving 578 MW of capacity converting to gas. These retirements and conversions are a result of a legal action dating back from 1999.
Georgia Power operates our country’s largest carbon emission source in the electricity sector – Plant Scherer. In 2014, Plant Scherer emitted a whopping 17.8 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere – slightly more than the amount of carbon emissions from Maryland’s entire coal fleet in 2013.
As we covered in our 2013 Georgia Power Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) blog, the Georgia Public Service Commission approved retirement of 2,000 MW of coal and oil-fired units by 2016. Plant Harllee Branch near Milledgeville, along with 5 out of the 7 coal-fired units at Plant Yates in Newnan, went offline in 2015; Plant Kraft near Savannah will close by April 2016. These retirements mean a significant improvement in air quality for the state of Georgia and a win for the battle to address climate change. Georgia Power is in the process of developing its 2016 IRP and SACE is working with allies to ensure this next IRP includes further coal retirement commitments.
Since those coal announcements came out of the 2013 IRP, Georgia Power hasn’t made much progress in reducing its reliance on dirty, coal-fired power. In January 2014, the company did announce that it would request retirement of its coal-fired unit (155 MW) at Plant Mitchell, located in Albany, GA. Recently, SACE released a report highlighting how uneconomic it is to continue operation of Georgia Power’s Plant Hammond (4 units – 1201 MW). Despite this compelling data, it is unclear when Georgia Power may announce retirement of further coal units in 2016.
In February of this year, Gulf Power announced retirement of its Lansing Smith coal plant (2 units – 340 MW), which is set to retire in March 2016. Gulf Power officially retired its Scholz plant (2 units – 98 MW) in July 2015, leaving it with one remaining coal plant in its fleet – the Crist plant (4 units – 1135 MW) near Pensacola. We applaud Gulf Power’s move away from coal, especially given the fact that as the effects of climate change begin to become more severe, states like Florida will be the hardest hit by sea level rise.
Earlier this year, the last load of coal was delivered to Mississippi Power’s Watson Electric Generation Plant (2 units – 877 MW). Those units will be converting to burn natural gas, thanks to a legal agreement related to Mississippi Power’s Kemper County Energy Facility debacle. This leaves Mississippi Power with one remaining coal plant, the Daniel Electric Generating Plant (2 units – 1097 MW), which is currently getting a $660 million scrubber upgrade to comply with new air pollution regulations. Construction of the scrubber is expected to be finished by April 2016.
Southern Company remains one of the most coal-dependent utilities in the nation. However, natural gas prices are expected to remain low, renewable energy prices are falling, and the true costs of dirty coal will increasingly be reflected in the cost of operating these plants. The Clean Power Plan will also likely have implications for some of the oldest remaining coal-fired plants in the fleet. We hope to see more coal plants idled or retired, possibly as soon as Georgia’s 2016 IRP, along with new clean energy opportunities for the affected communities.
Most importantly, the transition to a clean-energy based power system that has already begun will continue to gather momentum in 2016!