Power4Georgians is a consortium of six electric membership cooperatives, including Marietta-based Cobb EMC, that plan to build and own Plant Washington in Sandersville, about 130 miles southwest of Atlanta.
Dean Alford, spokesman for Power4Georgians, said the group hopes to have all permitting issues resolved and financing in place by the end of this year, paving the way for four years of construction and a fully operational, $2.1 billion, 850-megawatt coal plant by 2016 or 2017.
When plans to build the plant were announced in 2008, it was stated that Cobb EMC would own about 25 percent and purchase roughly that same percentage of power the plant produces. But on Tuesday, EMC spokesman Sam Kelly, who wrote a letter to the editor last month claiming full transparency regarding Cobb EMC's involvement in Power4Georgians, would not say how much ownership the co-op could have in the plant going forward.
Another co-op spokeswoman also could not give a ballpark figure for ownership, but stated, "Cobb EMC wants to be a significant owner ... Dwight and the board are looking at this as an opportunity. Cobb is a primary driver for this asset and is expected to be a primary user."
The only money that has been spent for Plant Washington so far has gone toward obtaining permits and some land acquisition. According to Cobb EMC, that amount is around $12 million, of which the local cooperative has contributed roughly half. Whether that is an indication of how much stake Cobb EMC would have in owning Plant Washington remains unclear.
According to Cobb EMC's 2010 annual report, the co-op owns 39 percent of Power4Georgians. However, Kelly said that is also not an indication of how much ownership the co-op would have in the coal plant.
Since the plans to build the plant were announced, four electric cooperatives have decided to opt out, leaving Cobb EMC and five others pushing forward with the project.
Due to this and other factors, Alford and Kelly said the percentages of ownership for Plant Washington among the EMCs has not yet been decided.
Alford said ownership would be solidified when the permitting process is complete and financing is in place.
Alford, a five-term representative in the Georgia House and president of Allied Energy Services, which is the company the cooperatives retained to lead development and the permitting effort, said his company is being paid on an hourly basis, but declined to say how much that amount is.
As for paying for the coal plant, Kelly said, "...construction of Plant Washington will be financed with a loan that will be paid back with proceeds from the electricity sold by Power4Georgians over a long term, perhaps 50 years. What percentage of that cost will be Cobb EMC's wont be know until the financing is obtained" and other factors.
Alford said financing is based on the quality of the company and "Cobb EMC is in good financial shape to get the financing."
However, opponents of the plant, as well as a handful of plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the cooperative, have raised concerns about the financial handlings by Cobb EMC leadership. An ongoing October 2007 civil suit alleged gross mismanagement, waste of corporate assets and unjust enrichment. Further, Plant Washington opponents and environmentalists raise the issue of Brown's indictment earlier this month on several counts of theft and racketeering. Brown is listed as "organizer" on legal documents to establish Power4Georgians.
"Investing in a coal plant is already a bad idea," Ulla Reeves of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said. "Investing money where corruption has been alleged at the helm is a boondoggle and simply irresponsible. The EMCs involved in Power4Georgians ought to take a hard look at their involvement in this plan."
But Alford maintains that Brown is just one voting member on the Power4Georgians board and his indictment is inconsequential in the consortium's plans to construct Plant Washington. As for claims that Brown is leading the Power4Georgians effort, he said, "When this thing first started, someone has to sign the legal documents to get it started... He's one board member (out of five). He has an equal vote as anyone else."
The chairman of the Power4Georgians board is Central Georgia EMC President George Weaver, Alford said.
Interestingly, a settlement in the civil suit called for Brown to announce his retirement on or before Feb. 28, when his current employment contract expires. Whether that will still happen, Kelly would only say, "The board has a process in place and has actively sought external and internal resumes."
If Brown does retire, his current role in Power4Georgians would cease, Alford said, since he would no longer be an active employee of the one of the co-ops building the plant. However, it's apparent Cobb EMC would remain involved in Plant Washington regardless of Brown.
"With regard to Plant Washington, the board supports the project," co-op spokeswoman Carol Cookerly said.
Environmental groups, though, say Cobb EMC customers will be "socked with financial liabilities that will come" from building Plant Washington and another proposed coal plant near Fitzgerald in Ben Hill County, according to a joint press release send Jan. 7.
"No coal plant has commenced construction in over two years, and dozens have been cancelled due to concerns that they are not sound financial investments," the release stated. "In fact, four of the original ten EMCs have pulled out of Brown's Plant Washington project, citing these exact concerns, yet under Dwight Brown's leadership, Cobb EMC has proceeded."
Kelly, however, maintains that building Plant Washington will be cheaper for ratepayers than investing in nuclear or solar energy.
Additionally, Alford said the reason the other four EMCs dropped out of the project is because the original plan was to build two sites, Plant Washington and Plant Ben Hill. The latter plant has remained only in a conceptual planning phase while Washington goes through its permitting process. Alford expects that when permits to build Plant Ben Hill are issued, other power providers, which could include the EMCs that dropped out of Power4Georgians, could step forward to seek ownership in that plant again.
But Bonnie Jones, spokeswoman for Jackson EMC, one of the cooperatives that dropped out of building Plant Washington, said Jackson EMC's reason for getting out of the project was "a matter of an uncertain regulatory environment and a lot of other issues."
The other three electric cooperatives that dropped out of Power4Georgians more than a year ago are GreyStone Power Corporation in Douglasville, Excelsior EMC in Metter, and Diverse Power in LaGrange.
Gary Miller, president and CEO of GreyStone, said that cooperative's decision to step away from the project was based on possible changes in Washington, D.C., in regards to coal and environmental regulations, and uncertainty in the regulatory environment.
However, he also said coal remains a necessary and viable resource for power and co-op officials "look forward to the building of Plant Washington." He said purchasing power from Plant Washington "in the future may be a viable option."
Calls seeking comment from representatives of the remaining co-ops that dropped out went unreturned.
The remaining six co-ops involved in Power4Georgians are Cobb, Pataula, Snapping Shoals, Central Georgia, Washington County and Upson EMCs.