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Long-running Ga. coal project trying to extend key permit

Oneof the last proposed conventional coal-fired power plants, the 850-MW PlantWashington supposed to be built in rural Georgia, is trying to preserve an airpermit from Georgia regulators that it needs to start construction.

The private development group behind the $2 billionproject, ,has long maintained that the coal plant is primed for construction, with allnecessary permits granted except for formal recognition from the U.S. EPA thatit can begin construction.

Butthe plant's prevention of significant deterioration air quality permit from theGeorgia Environmental Protection Division, first awarded to the project in 2010and since extended, had a deadline that the project must begin construction byApril 14, according to the EPD. On April 12, Power4Georgians submitted arequest to again extend that deadline. The EPD is evaluating that request, thedivision's Air Protection Branch chief, Karen Hays, said.

Inthe years since it was first proposed,around 2008, Plant Washington became an anomaly among U.S. power plants. Theissues that have stopped the plant from being built illustrate many of thechallenges facing coal as a source of baseload power across the country. At atime when cheaper natural gas-fired plants were replacing coal plants, many ofwhich were retiring due to new EPA regulations, Power4Georgians continued toadvocate for its project as an affordable source of power in the long run forGeorgia residents, including members of several Georgia electric cooperativesthat originally formed Power4Georgians, such as the Thedeveloper is led by Dean Alford, a former representative in the GeorgiaLegislature.

But as the plant was battling environmental groups to winstate permits, the U.S. EPA was formulating new regulations that increasedcosts on operating coal plants and made new coal-fired generation untenable.The EPA's proposed CO2 limits for new power plants are stringent enough that acoal plant lacking expensive carbon-capture technology, including aconventional supercritical coal plant such as Plant Washington, cannot comply.But the fact that Plant Washington was midway through its development processas these rules were being proposed put it in a state of limbo. The EPA said theproject and only a few other proposed coal plants may be exempt from the rulesince they would not be considered "new" power plants. Whileenvironmental groups argued to the contrary, Power4Georgians it was indeed exempt.

When asked if the EPA hasmade any decisions about Plant Washington's exemption, the agency said in anemail that it has "no new information to share about this facility."

But that exemption may not matter if the plant cannot moveforward for other reasons.

"The booming clean energy economy in Georgia has madePlant Washington old news," Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Organizer IanKarra said in an email. "In fact, the coal plant's biggest former backerand the local community have moved on and embraced cheaper, less pollutingalternatives," he said, referring to the Cobb Electric Membership Corp.,or Cobb EMC.

The co-op withdrew its financial support forPower4Georgians in 2012, with one board member the developer had failed todescribe "a clear path forward" for Plant Washington. But the projectwas able to win a new investor in the form of a private energy fund run by aformer president and CEO of XcelEnergy Inc.'s Colorado utility.

The project was also connected to a controversy overthe 2011 indictmentof former Cobb EMC CEO Dwight Brown on racketeering charges. An audit orderedby the EMC's board following these allegations found that Brown had "championed"Power4Georgians, but that Brown had recommended a company run by Alford, AlliedEnergy Services, to develop the project. There was no competitive biddingprocess before Allied was hired and "no business plan was developed toconsider the value and risks inherent in the project," the audit said.

Other new coal projects that the EPA had said might qualifyfor an exemption from the CO2 limits are outright canceled, such as in the caseof Wolverine Power Cooperative'sRogers City coal project in Michigan, or are dormant as legal challenges arepending, such as SunflowerElectric Power Corp.'s proposed expansion of its Holcomb coal-firedplant in Kansas.

Power4Georgians did not immediately respond to a request forcomment April 15.