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New EPA regulations force closure of 15 power plants and loss of 480 jobs

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The latest round of mercury regulations heading down the pike from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being blamed for looming power plant closures in Georgia.

Yesterday Georgia Power requested permission to close down 15 power plants. According to a report from Reuters, plants targeted were “units 3 and 4 at Plant Branch in Putnam County; units 1-5 at Plant Yates in Coweta County; units 1 and 2 at Plant McManus in Glynn County; units 1-4 at Plant Kraft in Chatham County; and units 2 and 3 at Boulevard in Chatham County.”

Ten of the fifteen plants are coal-fired, three from an oil/natural gas combination and the remaining two solely by oil. They currently provide 2,061 megawatts of energy to Peach State consumers.

A separate write-up of the situation from the Athens Banner Herald states that move is set to directly impact 480 employees of Georgia Power, which is the largest unit of Southern Company.

Mark Williams, a spox for the company, noted that the employees “were told before anybody else.”

“The plan now is to achieve all these reductions either through attrition or relocation,” he continued.

At issue is the increased hammerlock the EPA’s new set of mercury regulations will put on the plants. Those regulations were mentioned directly by Georgia Power as central to the closures; the costs of implementing the new rules “make the plants too expensive to run.”

Eleven of the facilities are now set to close the same day the new mercury rules take effect, April 16, 2015. Year-long waivers from the EPA are being sought for the other four, with closure coming in 2016.

The EPA has claimed that its regulation will yearly produce around $140 billion in benefits, “but only $6 million of the benefits come from actual mercury reductions.” A study conducted by Dr. Anne Smith, Senior VP of NERA Economic Consulting’s Global Environment Group, deduced that the large dollar figure from the regulatory agency was due to reductions of fine particulate matter.

However, the reductions were dubbed “coincidental,” and such matter already regulated under the Clean Air Act.

Despite the seemingly uncertain benefits and obvious negative economic impact on Georgia, the state’s Sierra Club chapter heralded the move as a victory. “If the company chooses to replace this capacity with home-grown, twenty-first century energy technology like solar and wind, their decision will also be good for Georgia jobs,” read the group’s statement.

-Brandon Howell