Scherer Plant Shuttering

One of the major producers of carbon emissions begins a shutdown

The Robert W. Scherer Generating Facility in Julliette ,Ga., is one of the single largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions at a single location in the country, emitting more than 16 million tons of CO2 in 2018 (the most recent year data is available for), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The plant has been under investigation for groundwater contamination from toxic coal ash, according to a press release from the Sierra Club. Plant Scherer in Georgia will now lose one of its four units to retirement.

Plant Scherer’s Unit 4, which is operated by the Georgia Power Company, has been jointly owned by JEA and Florida Power & Light Company since 1989. JEA holds 24% ownership (about 198 megawatts) and FPL owns the remaining 76%.

The City of Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) and Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) agreed to close the jointly owned Robert W. Scherer Unit 4 of the Scherer coal-fired electric generating station in Juliette, Georgia, just north of Macon, Georgia, on January 1, 2022. The decision was made by a unanimous 5-0 vote by the JEA board following an April announcement by FPL that it would retire its ownership stake.

Plant Scherer is the biggest coal plant in the United States, with each of the four units producing 891 megawatts of energy. Although the plant is operated by Georgia Power, Unit 4 is owned by FPL, owning 76.36% and JEA, owning 23.64%. Due to the plummeting cost of renewables and fracked gas, Scherer Unit 4 had become the most expensive unit in JEA’s fleet.

Plant Scherer has also long been under investigation for groundwater contamination from toxic coal ash. Just this year, residents of Juliette stormed the Georgia statehouse to demand remedies for groundwater contamination.

Toxic coal ash leaches into groundwater, polluting well water, lakes, and rivers used for drinking, fishing, and recreation. The public health risks associated with coal ash are significant and well-documented (we ran an item about Duke Energy’s long-running coal ash battles back in 2017. Coal ash sites contain some of the most dangerous known toxic chemicals on earth—like arsenic, lead, mercury, and chromium—which raise the risk for cancer, heart disease, and stroke, and can inflict permanent brain damage on children.

It is expected that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division will release draft permits for the closure of the coal ash ponds near Scherer in March 2021. The closure of Scherer Unit 4 means less coal ash production, and despite the unit’s retirement, FPL and JEA are still financially responsible for coal ash remediation.

Although Scherer Unit 4 will cease operation, Southern Company’s subsidiary Georgia Power will continue to burn coal at the other 3 units, totalling 2,673 MW of energy. Another Southern Company coal plant, Plant Bowen, will surpass Scherer to become the nation’s largest coal plant.

“We are happy to see JEA’s unanimous decision to divest from the nation’s largest coal plant,” said Janet Stanko, Chair of Sierra Club’s Northeast Florida group. “CEO Paul McElroy recognized that the power from Plant Scherer was the highest cost in the utility’s portfolio, a trend that has been happening across the country. Coal is the dirtiest fuel for electricity generation in pollutants and carbon emissions. We are particularly happy about this decision as the urgency to retire coal rises every day as we deal with the devastating impact of climate change and we are particularly happy to see that there is the option to increase JEA’s solar potential as part of the power purchase agreement.”

“This is a clarion call that even the nation’s biggest coal plants don’t make economic sense,” said Stephen Stetson, Senior Campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “The Florida utilities understood that they needed to be out of Plant Scherer, and now the remaining owners of the plant — Oglethorpe Power, Georgia Power, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and the City of Dalton — these entities need to follow along and retire their interest in dirty coal-fired electricity. This is a perfect opportunity to re-invest in new, sustainable jobs for communities near power plants, and we hope re-training and transition assistance will be prioritized in the next coming months.”

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