Tough federal emissions standards are being blamed for the closure of 15 coal-fired plants and the loss of nearly 480 jobs in Georgia.
Georgia Power plans to close the power plants, cutting its grid capacity by more than 15 percent, in a move the utility said was necessary to comply with federal regulations aimed at reducing air pollution.
"We recognize the significant impact that these retirements will have on the local communities and we took that into account when making these decisions," said Georgia Power President and CEO Paul Bowers. "These decisions were made after extensive analysis and are necessary in order for us to maintain our commitment to provide the most reliable and affordable electricity to our customers."
The announcement was hailed by environmental activists but lamented by coal industry advocates, who say the Obama administration is “targeting” their industry.
“There’s no question about it, the industry is being targeted by this administration," Jason Hayes, spokesman for the American Coal Council, told FoxNews.com. He said current regulations and laws make it nearly impossible for older coal-burning plants to be upgraded in a cost-effective manner, leaving utilities like Georgia Power little choice but to shut them down.
In recent months, several utilities have made similar announcements, saying they opted to close aging coal plants rather than pay hundreds of millions of dollars to install pollution-control equipment to comply with federal clean-air rules.
Hayes said the Obama administration’s policies have combined with a sluggish economy and increasingly cheap natural gas – coal’s main competitor – to hurt the industry.
Georgia Power used coal to produce 70 percent of its electricity as recently as five years ago, but now gets less than half its juice from the fossil fuel, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Officials said the lost capacity will be replaced with nuclear energy and natural gas.
Although officials said customer’s bills won’t jump immediately, the cost of shutting down the plants could ultimately be passed on to consumers.
“Georgia Power’s announcement today shows utilities’ continued move away from coal, which we support as beneficial for both our health and Georgia’s economy,” Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, executive director of GreenLaw, an Atlanta-based environmental law firm, told the newspaper.
Federal regulators and environmentalists say power plants are responsible for about half the nation’s mercury toxins, which contaminate water and fish. The new regulations are designed to help prevent premature deaths, asthma and other health problems, but coal industry officials, say the aggressive rules are costing jobs and driving up the price of electricity.