Georgia Power is reducing its reliance on coal by phasing out several coal-fired units. However, clean-energy advocates say the company should dispose of all its waste correctly and not pawn the cost of cleanup on ratepayers.
After years of pressure from concerned community members and clean-energy advocates, Georgia Power has been following a national trend by retiring some of its coal-fired power plants, the latest is Plant Wansley near Carrollton.
The welcome news for environmental groups is bittersweet since the next phase is trying to convince the company -- or force state regulators to make it -- to manage the leftover toxic waste known as coal ash, without harming the environment.
Charline Whyte, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in Georgia, said she was glad to see the utility switch from "capping-in-place" to excavating the ash to a lined pit which prevents seepage into groundwater.
"So this shows that Georgia Power is willing and able to do the right thing and, too, do the safest options for the communities," Whyte acknowledged. "But they haven't opted to do so at many of its other coal ash ponds."
Georgia Power did not respond to a request for comment but has outlined plans to phase out most of its coal units in the next five years, claiming it no longer makes economic sense to keep the aging coal plants open.
Georgia's Public Service Commission agreed with all but one, deferring giving the company permission to shutter its Bowen Plant until at lest 2025.
The company plans to close 29 coal ash ponds with its efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to close to zero by 2050. Whyte argued the company should opt to add liners in all of its coal ash ponds.
"I would say that in Georgia, Plant Scherer pond is another example of an opportunity for the company to do the right thing from the beginning," Whyte urged. "Which is closing by removal rather than the planned closure by cap in place."
Whyte added she believes the utility should bear the responsibility and shoulder the costs of properly disposing of the waste instead of it being allowed to pass the cost on to consumers.
The Sierra Club has an interactive map on its website which lists 358 coal plants retired since 2010, or proposed to retire by 2031.
Disclosure: The Sierra Club
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