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Southern Co. to shut down more coal plants

Atlanta-based Southern Co., the parent of Georgia Power, is doubling down on its commitment to reduce its reliance on coal. The nation’s third largest utility has announced plans to close most of its coal-burning units at Plant Scherer, Plant Bowen, and Plant Wansley in Georgia as well as coal units at two Southern plants in Alabama.

The closures, which will occur by 2028, will help Southern move toward its long-term goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, Southern CEO Tom Fanning told Wall Street analysts during an earnings call. The plant closings Fanning outlined Thursday, combined with the recent retirement of two coal plants in Mississippi, will mean a reduction in Southern’s coal generating capacity from more than 20,000 megawatts of electricity across nearly 70 generating units in 2007 to fewer than 4,500 megawatts of capacity remaining at just eight generating units.

Environmental groups have pushed for years for utilities to move away from using coal in power generation toward solar power and other sources of renewable energy.

“After years of pressure from grassroots organizations, clean energy advocates, and concerned community members, Southern Company has finally decided to take a step in the right direction and close down some of the dirtiest power plants in its fleet,” David Rogers, Southeast deputy regional director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said Friday. “Southern Company deserves credit for making this decision.” But Rogers said more work needs to be done. For one thing, Southern plans to continue operating Plant Miller in Alabama, the largest carbon polluter in the nation.

Rogers also called on Southern to work with affected communities to help coal plant workers transition to other jobs.

“We need to make sure communities are given the resources to thrive through this transition, rather than be left behind,” he said. “Additionally, legacy pollution from these coal plants, like coal ash, must be cleaned up properly to protect the health of communities nearby.”

Fanning said the exact timing of the planned coal plant closings in Georgia will be subject to approval by the state Public Service Commission in its review of Georgia Power’s next Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).

The utility files a new IRP every three years outlining the mix of power sources it will rely on to generate electricity for the next two decades. The next IRP is due to be submitted to the commission early next year.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

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