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BREAKING: War on Coal hits home, Alabama Power forced to shut down coal units

Gorgas Steam Plant near Parrish, Alabama
Gorgas Steam Plant near Parrish, Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama Power announced Friday that federal environmental mandates are forcing them to close two of the state’s coal-fired units and transition two others from coal to natural gas, resulting in a reduction in workforce that the company hopes to avoid by transferring employees to other locations.

Because of rules tied to federal environmental regulations, Alabama Power will close two smaller coal units at Plant Gorgas in Walker County. Two more units at Plant Barry, in Mobile County, will cease using coal but will remain available on a limited basis using natural gas. A third coal unit at Barry will begin using gas, but its capability will not be impacted as significantly as the other two units, according to a release by Alabama Power.

Another significant change will take place at Plant Greene County, where the company will cease using coal and switch to natural gas. Because of this transition, the plant is expected to reduce its workforce by about half.

“Federal environmental mandates are forcing us to change how we generate electricity for our customers,” said Matt Bowden, Alabama Power’s vice president for environmental affairs. “They are putting new restrictions on our ability to provide our customers with the energy they need in a cost-effective manner.”

On top of these regulations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed the first-ever rules related to greenhouse gases for existing power plants. If these rules are put in place, they could force the company to make additional costly changes to meet federal mandates, the company said Friday.

The EPA held public hearings on the newly proposed rules this week in Atlanta, GA. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, two members of Alabama’s Public Service Commission, a senior advisor to Governor Bentley, and several other Alabama leaders testified against the rules, warning the EPA that they will cause irreparable harm to the state’s economy.

1. Ala. leaders plead with Obama admin to ‘stop strangling our state with federal mandates’
2. (Video) Alabama coal miner delivers stunning emotional testimony at EPA hearings
3. (Video) Enviro activist testifying at EPA hearings bursts into song ‘to honor the atmosphere’
4. (Video) Alabama AG blasts ‘illegal’ EPA regs, vows to fight ‘overreaching’ Obama administration in court

Alabama Power said today that they have spent a total of more than $3 billion to meet federal environmental mandates, and are in the process of spending another $1 billion to comply with new federal environmental regulations tied to air emissions. Further spending could be required to meet future federal environmental regulations tied to water, land and coal combustion byproducts.

The plant changes announced today are expected to be completed by 2016.

“These facilities are vital to the communities they serve, providing quality jobs and supporting local economies,” said Jim Heilbron, senior production officer for Alabama Power. “Many of our plants are located in rural communities, which make the jobs they provide even more important.

“Fuel diversity helps protect customers from price volatility and potential shortages of any one fuel source,” he continued. “Unfortunately, new restrictions on coal expose our customers to these risks, while further hindering our ability to serve our customers in a reliable and cost-effective manner.”

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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