Alabama Power to close 2 coal-fired units, reduce or eliminate c - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Alabama Power cutting back on coal use to meet federal mandates

Plant Barry (Source: Alabama Power) Plant Barry (Source: Alabama Power)
Plant Gorgas (Source: Alabama Power) Plant Gorgas (Source: Alabama Power)
Greene County Steam Plant (Source: Alabama Power) Greene County Steam Plant (Source: Alabama Power)
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Alabama Power is cutting back on coal use to comply with federal environmental rules.

The utility company says it will close two coal-fired units at one plant and reduce or eliminate the ability to use coal at other facilities due to federal environmental mandates.

"Federal environmental mandates are forcing us to change how we generate electricity for our customers," said Matt Bowden, Alabama Power's vice president for environmental affairs. "They are putting new restrictions on our ability to provide our customers with the energy they need in a cost-effective manner."

Alabama Power's fuel mix will fall from 55 percent coal to approximately 45 percent.

The company said in a statement Friday that by 2016 it will close two coal-fired generating units at Plant Gorgas in Walker County. It will reduce or eliminate the ability to use coal at Plant Barry in Mobile County and Plant Greene County in the like-named county.

Two units at Plant Barry will switch to natural gas and a third unit will also begin using gas, but officials say its capability won't be impacted as significantly.

At Plant Greene County, the transition to natural gas means the workforce will be cut in half from 125 employees to around 60. The cuts will come through attrition and transfers, not layoffs.

Alabama Power says it has spent $3 billion to meet federal environmental mandates over the last decade and is in the process of spending another $1 billion to comply with other regulations tied to air emissions.

More regulations, and higher costs to comply, are possible in the future. The EPA has proposed the first-ever rules related to greenhouse gases for existing power plants.

REACTION

EPA spokeswoman Dawn Harris-Young says the new environmental proposals will reduce carbon pollution, maintain affordable and reliable energy systems, and provide important health protections and spur investment in cleaner technologies that create jobs.

"We know that coal and natural gas play a significant role in a diverse national energy mix. This Plan does not change that-it recognizes the opportunity to modernize aging plants, increase efficiency, and lower pollution. That's part of an all-of-the-above strategy that paves a more certain path for conventional fuels in a carbon constrained world," said EPA administrator Gina McCarthy.

Alabama's leaders, including its U.S. senators, believe otherwise and see the regulations as executive overreach.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R) and Jeff Sessions(R), promised to fight the regulations which they called "executive overreach." They added, "the EPA's proposal, if finalized, would impose enormous costs and burdens on Alabama workers and their families..."

Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-District 7) said she was disappointed and believes the decision will have a negative impact on employment on Greene County, "a county that can least absorb its effect." She says while she believes in diversifying energy production and government's role in environmental policy, she "support[s] coal as a viable source of energy in Alabama until alternatives become more economically feasible."

Members of the Alabama Public Service Commission call it a war on coal.

Alabama Public Service Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh blamed the closures on the Obama administration saying, "I am all for using the cheapest method available for producing electricity in the state of Alabama but I think it's wrong for Washington to mandate coal out of business. The reality is, we need a mix of different sources for the power we use in Alabama and we don't need Washington to decide what that mix should be. It will drive up costs and it will take away jobs and right now, we don't need to lose jobs."

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to correct the first sentence which incorrectly stated "two plants" were closing when it should have said "two units at one plant".

Copyright 2014 WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved.

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