Alabama Power Will Close Century-Old Coal Plant

An Alabama power plant that has operated for more than a century will close in April, with Alabama Power saying that the cost to comply with government regulations on the handling of coal ash and wastewater no longer make the plant economically viable.

Jim Heilbron, Alabama Power’s senior vice president and senior production officer, on February 20 said the William C. Gorgas Electric Generating Plant near Parrish, Alabama on the banks of the Black Warrior River, will be shut down April 15. Alabama Power had closed two coal-fired units at the plant in 2014.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) in 2018 proposed a $1.25 million fine against Alabama Power for violations of state clean water laws related to coal ash ponds at a handful of the utility’s plants, including Plant Gorgas. The ADEM said the fines were for discharge of pollutants into groundwater and soil.

$300 Million to Comply With Regulations

“We recognize that Plant Gorgas and the men and women who have operated it have brought great value to Alabama Power, our customers and the local community,” Heilbron said in a news release. The company in a statement said it would cost about $300 million to comply with the latest round of environmental mandates and continue operating the plant’s three coal-fired generating units.

“We are also concerned that more regulations are on the horizon that could require additional, costly expenditures at the plant,” Heilbron said.

Plant Gorgas began operating in 1917. It was originally known as the Warrior Reserve Steam Plant before being renamed to honor medical researcher and Alabama native William Crawford Gorgas.

Alabama Power said the plant’s closure will not affect the reliability of power to its customers in the region.

Company Has Closed More than Half its Coal Units

Alabama Power said increased costs to operate coal plants have led the utility to reduce its number of coal-fired units to just seven, down from 23 in 2015. Those seven units remaining after Plant Gorgas is closed operate at three power plants. Some of the previously retired coal units have been converted to run on natural gas.

“Alabama Power is focused on providing our customers reliable, affordable electricity while protecting the environment we all share,” Heilbron said. He said the company continues to examine its generating fleet and fuel mix to meet both government mandates and also remain cost-competitive in what it called “a volatile energy market.”

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

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