Georgia Power: Errors caused Bowen blast

Worker errors, not equipment failure, caused last month’s generator explosion at a Georgia Power coal-fired plant near Cartersville, a spokesman for the utility said.

Georgia Power recently finished part of its internal investigation and determined workers did not comply with procedures and did not communicate properly, spokesman Mark Williams said. He did not give details.

The missteps contributed to the plant having a combustible mix of hydrogen and air inside a generator, which led to the explosion nearly a month ago, Williams said.

The investigation is continuing, and no one has been disciplined at this point, he said.

“We are now doing an operational and cultural assessment at Plant Bowen,” Williams said. “Operations, safety and maintenance procedures and processes all will be assessed.”

The blast happened as workers were shutting down Unit 2 for planned maintenance. Three people were treated for minor injuries.

Two of the four units at Plant Bowen are producing electricity. Units 1 and 2 remain closed.

Georgia Power recorded no safety issues at Plant Bowen between 2007-2010. There were no major violations recorded at the power plant since that time, Williams said.

Georgia Power’s parent, Atlanta-based Southern Co., has brought in a team to review the incident, enhance safety measures and apply those new procedures at all of the natural gas, coal and nuclear plants across its territory.

The team includes non-company workers and employees from Southern’s “nuclear safety” division, considered to have the most stringent operational and safety requirements.

“We’re going to assess what happened and enhance our safety procedures as necessary,” Williams said.

The explosion caused significant damage to the control room for Units 1 and 2. It also caused significant damage to the switchyard, the hub where electricity is converted into the proper voltage before it is transported onto the grid.

OSHA is still working on the investigation and has not released any findings. The agency has up to six months to complete an investigation and determine whether any standards were violated.

“It’s something that we take seriously,” said Georgia Public Service Commission Chairman Chuck Eaton, who toured the damaged plant recently. The PSC sets utility rates and is not involved directly in safety issues, but Eaton said the incident will be discussed.

As a regulated monopoly, Georgia Power can ask state utility regulators for permission to recoup the costs of the shutdown from consumers. The utility has not determined whether it will do that.

The blast was strong enough to rattle windows miles away, but the incident did not cause residents or businesses to lose power.

Because of its size, Bowen routinely ranks near the top of toxic emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division did not investigate the incident after an initial visit determined that the explosion released no significant air pollution.