An 865-MW Georgia Power Coal Plant Is Showing Distress

The future of Georgia Power’s 865-MW coal-fired Plant Hammond in Floyd County, Georgia—which recently slashed more than half its workforce—is murky, company officials said August 3.

The four-unit facility that began operations in 1954 employed 190 workers in September 2016. Today, according to company officials, the plant only has 41 full-time employees.

Georgia Power Regional Director Cassandra Wheeler reportedly told members of the Rome Rotarians civic club last week that “The numbers don’t look good,” as the Rome News-Tribune reported on August 2. Wheeler reportedly said the future of the plant won’t be known until the company completes its 2019 Integrated Resource Plan, through a process with the Georgia Public Service Commission.

Georgia Power spokesperson Jacob Hawkins on August 6 told POWER that Wheeler’s comments are “generally accurate.” Hawkins added: “While our next IRP is currently under development and will be filed in 2019, we are committed to delivering reliable and affordable energy and ensuring that all of our generation facilities provide value for our customers.”

Plant Hammond was named in honor of William Phin Hammond, a Georgia Power employee “who was responsible for the design and construction of all the company generating units for more than 40 years,” the company says in a 2016 factsheet. Anticipating that the plant would represent a major commitment to ensure an adequate power supply of electricity, Georgia Power recently added environmental controls at the plant, including a common scrubber for all four units and a selective catalytic reduction system on Unit 4.

Plant Hammond’s reportedly dismal numbers may signal a turnaround in Georgia Power’s anticipated demand growth. In a May 2 earnings call, officials from Georgia Power’s parent company Southern Co. noted that in the state, where Southern Co. serves both gas and electric markets, “1.7% job growth continues to outpace the nation and Atlanta was ranked third in population growth in 2017 across the 12 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the nation.”

More details about the financial status of its legacy coal-fired power plants could emerge when Southern Co. unveils its second-quarter earnings on August 8.

The company on May 21 announced would sell several assets to Florida-based NextEra Energy in a bid to reduce debt and pay for construction of Units 3 and 4 at the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia. The deal includes sale of the 791-MW gas-fired simple-cycle combustion turbine plant near Cocoa, Florida, and a 65% ownership interest in Stanton Energy Center, a gas-fired combined cycle plant near Orlando, Florida. NextEra also is acquiring Gulf Power, a Pensacola, Florida-based utility that serves Northwest Florida, and Florida City Gas, which provides natural gas to residential and commercial customers in four counties along the state’s East Coast.

—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)