Cobb Electric Membership Corporation is joining five other state EMCs to build the 850-megawatt plant that will generate enough electricity to meet the needs of 500,000 to 700,000 Georgia homes. The facility would be the first power generator owned by the six EMCs, which now purchase their energy from wholesalers, and would allow them to own and operate their own plant and sell energy to themselves.
Power4Georgians, a consortium of state EMCs including Cobb EMC, has been working for more than two years to obtain the permits.
"This ensures that, not only Cobb EMC, but other EMCs in the state can provide reliable, affordable energy in the future," Power4Georgians spokesman Dean Alford said.
It is currently unknown how much Cobb EMC will contribute to the $2.1 billion cost of building Plant Washington, as the final ownership structure will be determined once Power4Georgians calculates how much power each EMC will take, Alford said.
However, when the plans to build the plant were announced, it was reported that Cobb EMC, which is one of the largest EMCs in the state, would own about 25 percent of the facility and would purchase about the same amount of energy it generates.
The plant will take about four years to complete after construction begins, which has not yet been determined. Power4Geogians is waiting to see if anyone will challenge the issuance of the permits, Alford said. A person or group has 30 days to file a specific concern with a state administrative law judge, who would have about 150 days to consider the challenge, Alford said.
One challenge is likely to come from one of the organizations connected to Georgians for Smart Energy, GSE Director Midge Sweet said.
"We have every expectation that there will be a challenge from one of the organizations," Sweet said. "There are important reasons why some of the permits should be challenged for the safety of the communities Plant Washington would impact...Despite the fact that we mine no coal in our state, our policy makers and energy leaders continue to rely on burning dirty coal instead of developing alternative energy like solar and promoting greater energy efficiency."
Georgia chapter members of the Sierra Club environmental group also oppose the coal plant. Erin Glynn, a conservation organizer for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, earlier noted that four other EMCs of the Power4Georgians consortium opted out of building Plant Washington, reducing total membership from 10 to six EMCs - Cobb EMC, Snapping Shoals EMC, Pataula EMC, Central Georgia EMC, Upson EMC and Washington EMC.
When the draft permits were granted in August, members of the Sierra Club said the plant would have a hazardous impact on the state's water and air quality.
However, Alford said, "We made significant and positive changes in our application to make our permits among the very best, if not the best, in the country. We responded to suggestions raised with regard to air and water and now have exceptional standards that far exceed the strictest federal regulations for protection of human health and the environment."
Specifically, according to a release from Power4Georgians, Plant Washington's overall emissions profile, based on the final permit, "will be among the lowest that has ever been proposed for a coal-fired power plant in the United States," and "developers were able to devise an unprecedented water management strategy to conserve and reuse water, reduce water withdrawal from the environment and allow zero discharge of stormwater from the plant site."
The permits issued Thursday to Power4Georgians include Prevention of Significant Deterioration for air quality; National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System for water discharge; a groundwater withdrawal permit; a surface water withdrawal permit; and a notice of site sustainability for the solid waste handling facility.
A Cobb EMC spokesman said co-op officials declined to comment on the plant Thursday. However, President and CEO Dwight Brown earlier stated that the plant would benefit the local co-op's 190,000 customers in Cobb, Cherokee, Bartow, Fulton and Paulding counties.
"Plant Washington will be good for our members, good for our co-op and good for our state," Brown previously said in a statement.
According to a release from Cobb EMC, the plant, when complete, is expected to create around 125 new jobs onsite.