Southern Will Close More than Half of Coal Fleet

Southern Company, the third-largest power utility in the U.S., said it will close more than half its coal-fired power generation fleet over the next few years as the group moves toward a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Southern on Nov. 5 said the closures include units at the two largest U.S. coal plants, along with the previously announced retirement of Plant Daniel in Mississippi. Georgia Power, a Southern subsidiary, expects to retire about 3 GW of coal-fired generation in that state, including two of the four units at the 3,450-MW Plant Bowen and one at the 3,500-MW Plant Scherer, the nation’s largest coal plant.

The utility also said a closure would occur at the 1,840-MW Plant Wansley in Georgia.

Southern CEO Tom Fanning in a call Friday with Wall Street analysts said the latest cuts mean the company will have reduced its coal-fired generation capacity by 80% since 2007. Atlanta, Georgia-based Southern at one time operated 66 coal-fired generating units, with capacity of nearly 20,500 MW across the U.S. Southeast. The company on Friday said its current fleet comprises 18 units with 9,799 MW of generation capacity.

Fanning said the closures announced Friday would leave Southern with just eight operating coal units, with about 4,300 MW of capacity. He said the closures would happen by 2028.

Alabama Power Cutting 3 GW

Alabama Power, another Southern Co. subsidiary, plans to shutter about 3,000 MW of coal-fired generation, including four units at Plant Gaston and one at Plant Barry, and convert another unit at both Gaston and Barry to burn natural gas. The utility also Friday said its Greene County natural gas steam generator plant, jointly owned by Alabama Power and Mississippi Power, will close in 2025 and 2026.

More electric utilities across the U.S. are studying future plans for their coal-fired units as standards change for effluent discharges of chemicals such as arsenic, mercury, and selenium, and utilities set carbon-reduction goals. Electric companies were required to tell the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month whether they will make new investments to keep their coal units running, retire them, or spend money on upgrades to meet the federal standards.

The Biden administration has called on the U.S. power industry to decarbonize operations by 2035.

Utility and environmental officials in Georgia and Alabama still need to approve Southern’s plans. Georgia Power is expected to file its next integrated resource plan (IRP) in January, which will provide more details about the utility’s future generation. Alabama Power is scheduled to file its next IRP later in 2022.

Plant Daniel Closure Set for 2027

Mississippi Power in April said it would decommission the two coal units at the 1,004-MW Plant Daniel in 2027. The utility at that time also confirmed it would shutter three gas-fired units in its fleet with 450 MW of generation capacity.

A closure of one unit at Plant Scherer also was previously announced. The Jacksonville (Fla.) Electric Authority (JEA) and Florida Power & Light (FPL), which owned the 848-MW Unit 4 at Plant Scherer since 1989, in June 2020 said they would close that unit after JEA’s board entered into a 20-year power purchase agreement with FPL for natural gas-fired and possibly solar power generation. That generation will replace the power output from Unit 4 at Scherer.

Plant Bowen, in addition to being a major U.S. coal plant, also is home to a Georgia Power and Electric Power Research Institute collaborative project focused on finding uses for recycled coal combustion products, or CCPs. The Ash Beneficial Use Center hosts pilot projects and lead testing to develop technology for the use of coal ash in commercial applications.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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