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Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - 11:17am

Coal Plant Proposed in S. GA

A private consortium of electric organizations seeks to build a coal-fired plant in Fitzgerald, Georgia, in south-central Ben Hill County. Power4Georgians (P4G) tells GPB it is looking to build an 850-megawatt coal-fired plant in the area.

The facility would be the second coal-fired pant of that size in Georgia, next to the proposed Plant Washington, in Sandersville.

Dean Alford, president of Allied Services (AES) and spokesman for Power4Georians, tells GPB he has spoken to local leadership and they support the plan. Alford says the proposed $2 billion dollar facility will create 1,500 construction jobs, 130 plant jobs and 120 other positions related to the coal plant.

"Georgia's going to need electrical capacity, and coal is a reliable, domestic part of that plan," Alford told GPB.

The property for the proposed Ben Hill Plant was purchased in 2008. Alford's interview with GPB is the first public acknowledgment of P4G's plan to develop the plant, although in the community, local leaders have been discussing the economic boost the plant would bring.

One supporter is Gerald Thompson, mayor of Fitzgerald, Ben Hill's county seat.

"I support the plant," Thompson tells GPB. "We've got to have more coal power in Georgia or we're going to have more brownouts and blackouts. And for Ben Hill County, it would add a tremendous amount of jobs, and taxes, and economic development."

Thompson also supports the proposal because the power generated by the Ben Hill Plant would be used in Georgia, according to P4G.

Yet, there are serious environmental and cost concerns. Even the so called "clean" coal plants produce a host of environmental toxins.

In a statement from an umbrella group of environmental organizations about the proposed Ben Hill Plant, Ogeechee Riverkeeper executive director Chandra Brown said "Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium that has to be disposed of some where. Mercury is especially dangerous to children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.”

“Georgians now realize that water is not a resource we can squander," Gordon Rogers, executive director of the Flint Riverkeeper, added in the statement. "Most of the mercury from a coal-fired facility falls within 60 miles of the smokestack. The Flint watershed is less than 25 miles from the proposed plant site. With the Flint already heavily contaminated by mercury, a new source is unacceptable.”

Justine Thompson, the executive director of GreenLaw, tells GPB it is a bad proposal. She says it's ironic that while world leaders are meeting in Copenhagen to figure out how to curb Greenhouse gasses, another coal plant is being proposed in Georgia. "We're stepping back in time," Thompson says. "Georgia is out of step with the entire planet."

Environmentalists also questioned the assertion that the power created at the proposed plant is needed. Fitzgerald Mayor Gerald Thompson dismissed the environmental criticism.

"I don't have anything to say back to them, because I don't have to. They're not my constituents," Thompson tells GPB. "This is good for our county, economically, and it's good for the state's power needs."

Meanwhile, P4G's Dean Alford stresses that while the site has been selected, and specifics such as size, cost and job creation has been evaluated, the project is a long way off. No environmental permits have been issued, he adds. "It's not much of a story," Alford tells GPB. "It's common for possible plant sites to be purchased. Georgia Power has many."

So how many properties does P4G's have around the state?

"I can't tell you that," Alford says.

Contributors

Contributors: 
Emily Green