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Wednesday, October 7, 2009 - 2:01am

Coal Plant Prompts Strong Reaction

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division says a proposed coal plant would emit far less pollution than others in the state, and would likely not threaten air and water quality.

At a public meeting on Tuesday, the EPD reviewed technical details on how the plant would operate. They said the proposed Plant Washington would be cleaner, due to tougher federal regulations on coal plants.

But opponents wondered why Power 4 Georgians, a group of six electric membership cooperatives seeking to build the plants, was choosing coal and not other forms of energy, especially since Congress and the Obama administration are considering even tougher laws on energy production and climate change. They also expressed fears that the pollution from sulfur dioxide, mercury, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide would harm the air and water.

Several people specifically expressed concerns over whether coal ash -- a byproduct of coal production -- would threaten them. A spill of more than a billion gallons of coal ash in Tennessee last year is considered one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.

Power 4 Georgians said the coal ash would be disposed of in a landfill and not a pond as it was in Tennessee, presenting less of a threat.

Dean Alford, who heads the group, also said coal is cheaper and that energy production should come from multiple sources and not just one. Alford said at the meeting that he was not immediately sure how much of the financing each cooperative would ultimately pick up for construction of the $2 billion plant, a cost that could ultimately be passed on to ratepayers.

Four cooperatives pulled out of the project in May.

Supporters of the plant, meanwhile, say it would bring badly needed jobs there, about 1600 during construction and 130 permanent jobs once the plant goes online.

Jimmy Andrews, the mayor of Sandersville, said a factory there had just announced that day that it was closing. He expected that 50 people would lose their jobs.

The EPD is currently reviewing air and water permits for Plant Washington.

It will hold a public hearing on the matter on October 20.

The plant would provide energy to about 500,000-700,000 homes.