Georgia Power plans to phase out all coal plants by 2035

Plant Scherer, a Georgia Power plant. Georgia Power announced a new timeline Monday for phasing out remaining coal-fired power plants, as well as heavy investments in renewables and natural gas to make up the gap. (Elijah Nouvelage for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Plant Scherer, a Georgia Power plant. Georgia Power announced a new timeline Monday for phasing out remaining coal-fired power plants, as well as heavy investments in renewables and natural gas to make up the gap. (Elijah Nouvelage for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Environmental groups question new investments in natural gas

The days are numbered for Georgia Power’s remaining coal-fired power plants, according to a new filing from the company.

By 2028, Georgia Power intends to shutter all but two of its coal-fired units, according to the company’s latest integrated resource plan filed Monday afternoon. The company plans to close the two remaining coal units at Plant Bowen in Bartow County by no later than 2035.

Georgia Power files its plan every three years with the Georgia Public Service Commission for approval. The company’s last one was approved in July 2019.

It is another indication that Georgia Power is moving rapidly away from coal as a power source. As it does, the company plans to make up the gap by adding more renewables and natural gas to its energy mix. It’s a shift that Georgia Power CEO Chris Womack said is being driven by several factors.

“There are additional environmental requirements imposed on coal plants, and it makes those units uneconomical, but there’s also the competitiveness and efficiency that we continue to see in renewable resources, particularly around solar,” Womack said.

In this plan, the company said it wants to add more than 2,300 megawatts of new capacity from renewables and that it plans to double its renewable generation by 2035. It also plans to invest in 1,000 megawatts of energy storage systems — such as massive batteries — a move Georgia Power says is necessary to allow solar to reliably power homes when the sun isn’t shining.

ExploreGeorgia Power continues retreat from coal

According to the plan, Georgia Power also proposes adding more than 2,300 megawatts of natural gas generating capacity.

While environmental groups lauded the shift away from coal, some said the new investment in natural gas made little sense to them. While burning natural gas generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt of energy produced than coal, gas-fired plants still send huge amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. To keep the global warming temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the World Meteorological Organization has warned that immediate and large-scale emissions reductions are necessary.

“We welcome Georgia Power’s plans for additional coal retirements, but its proposal to add over 2,300 megawatts of new gas capacity through power purchase agreements is deeply concerning ...,” said Jill Kysor, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Hearings will be held to discuss Georgia Power’s plan in the coming months, and the PSC is expected to vote on it over the summer.

Staff writer Matt Kempner contributed to this story.