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Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - 2:17pm

Coal Plant Opponents Take On Co-ops

An environmental group is criticizing a consortium of electric membership cooperatives that are seeking to build two controversial coal plants in Georgia. They say the co-ops have high utility rates and little accountability. Executives of the co-ops deny the allegations.

Georgians for Smart Energy hosted a press conference in Atlanta on Tuesday, as staff members and directors of electric cooperatives held an annual national meeting in the city.

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Fletcher Thompson singled out Cobb EMC, one of the consortium members. Thompson said Cobb had exhibited a "total disregard" for members' rights. Cobb has faced a long legal battle with its customers over costly mismanagement and governance issues.

Cobb EMC executives disputed Thompson's accusations, saying their rates had trended downward in recent years. They also said recent legal action filed by several Cobb members had stymied the process to make board elections more transparent. The members disagree.

Georgians for Smart Energy has opposed the proposed construction of a $2.1 billion coal plant in Sandersville that the consortium, Power4Georgians, is pursuing. The group said the plant would pollute the air and water, and they accused Power4Georgians of failing to aggressively pursue renewable energy sources.

Dean Alford, the consortium's CEO, disputed both accusations, saying environmental groups have based their assertions on inaccurate data.

Power4Georgians, meanwhile, has said it's pursuing another coal plant in Fitzgerald. That comes as power companies in other states abandon coal projects, largely because President Obama wants to restrict carbon emissions.

On Monday, the head of the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association said co-ops are increasingly looking at nuclear power to support a rising demand for energy. Since Congress has not acted on Obama's call to approve limits on the emissions, that has caused a great deal of uncertainty about the future viability of coal, said Glenn English, NRECA's CEO.

Obama, meanwhile, today announced a major investment in nuclear power when he said the federal government is granting $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro. Plant Vogtle is the first to get a chunk of the $18.5 billion in guarantees for the construction of two new nuclear reactors. Georgia Power is a majority owner of Vogtle. Several EMCs and municipal electric authorities also share ownership.

Industry watchers expect that the nuclear power expansion at Plant Vogtle will be the first approved by the federal government in 30 years. A decision is expected in 2011.

Electric cooperatives are governed by their customers, unlike major investor-owned utilities such as Georgia Power, which is governed by shareholders. The cooperatives are not subjected to the same level of state government scrutiny as the investor-owned utilities are.


Melissa Stiers