Coal Plant Developer Seeks Air Permit Extension from Ga. Environmental Agency

The developer of one of the few proposed new coal-fired power plants in the U.S. is trying to convince Georgia regulators to extend a key air permit that expires at the end of November, saying that a "regulatory morass" created by the U.S. EPA has made it impossible for the project to meet the deadline.

Power4Georgians LLC asked the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to extend the air permit for the proposed 850-MW Plant Washington by an additional 18 months. The air permit contains a condition that the project must begin construction before the permit expires.
But the Georgia agency's consideration of the request is in a holding pattern as the regulators wait and see what will happen with rules from the EPA to sharply restrict greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, rules that could make Plant Washington too expensive to be built. In addition, environmental groups that have attacked Plant Washington for years, arguing that it makes no sense to build new coal-fired generation at a time when coal plants across the country are being retired, have said they will fight any extension of the air permit.
In the meantime, an effort to raise financing for the $2.1 billion project has been delayed as Power4Georgians waits to see if the EPA will exclude the plant from the greenhouse gas restrictions and if the air permit will be renewed.
In 2012, Power4Georgians decided to press on with only private investors after several Georgia electric cooperatives that had been funding the project, including Cobb Electric Membership Corp., decided to pull out.
Power4Georgians plans to sell Plant Washington's power to the co-ops after the plant is built. Power4Georgians is "always continuously raising money," company spokesman Dean Alford said Nov. 29. But "you're not going to get financing until you get rid of this regulatory uncertainty," he said.
In the Sept. 12 request to the Georgia agency, Power4Georgians said its "efforts to commence construction of Plant Washington … have been consistently stymied by events outside of P4G's control." For example, earlier this year, the EPA released a new proposed draft of its greenhouse gas rule for new power plants. A previous version of the rule had listed Plant Washington as one of about 15 in-development coal plants that would be considered "transitional sources," spared from the greenhouse gas standards if they could begin construction by an April 2013 deadline. A conventional coal-fired plant like Plant Washington cannot meet the rule's limits on CO2 without carbon capture, a technology that most developers argue is prohibitively expensive to use at this time.
Power4Georgians believes that it met the deadline by executing contracts to build the plant's boiler in April. But the EPA's new version of the proposed rule only heightened the uncertainty. It did away with the "transitional source" category and instead said that it might exclude Plant Washington from the CO2 limits, but it put off making a conclusive decision until the rule is finalized.

Power4Georgians "cannot possibly complete the design and commence construction of Plant Washington until these standards are known," the developer argued in its request to the Georgia agency. Therefore, it is only fair for the regulators to extend the air permit deadline, Power4Georgians said.
"The fact that [Power4Georgians] has been thwarted in its efforts to commence construction of Plant Washington, combined with the regulatory morass created by EPA that continues to prevent [Power4Georgians] from completing the design of the facility and commencing construction, provide ample justification for extending the time limit," the company said in its request.
Southern Environmental Law Center attorney John Suttles, who has been involved in several legal battles against the plant, including litigation over the original air permit, said the request exposes a contradiction with the developer's earlier argument that it began construction in April by signing the boiler contracts. "If they had commenced construction like they said, they wouldn't need" the extension, he said Nov. 29.
The Georgia agency is unlikely to open up Power4Georgians' request to public comment until after the EPA publishes its greenhouse gas rule in the Federal
Register, according to Suttles, a move he expects sometime before Christmas Day.
The Southern Environmental Law Center dropped its opposition to Plant Washington's air permit by reaching a 2012 settlement with Power4Georgians in which the developer agreed to cancel plans to build a second 850-MW coal-fired plant in Georgia. - See more at: