Mitchell plant delayed for EPA ruling

By Lisa Gibson
Posted January 18, 2010, at 4:53 p.m. CST

The conversion of Georgia Power's Mitchell Generation Plant to biomass feedstock has been delayed, awaiting a U.S. EPA ruling on the industrial boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology (IB MACT) rule.

The rule would regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants such as certain acid gases, organics, metals and other pollutants from industrial boilers. It will likely affect biomass boilers like the one planned for Plant Mitchell, near Albany, Ga., according to Georgia Power Spokeswoman Lynn Wallace. "Our intent was always to convert this boiler with the understanding that we're meeting the EPA rules," she said, adding that undetermined rules make that difficult.

The plant operates now on coal, generating 155 megawatts. When converted to biomass feedstocks, including waste wood such as tree limbs, tree tops, needles and leaves, the facility will have a capacity of 96 megawatts, according to the company.

Georgia Power was set to begin spending a significant amount of capital on the $134 million project at the beginning of this year. "But now that the rule is in question, it's the prudent thing to do," Wallace said of the action to delay the project. Otherwise, she added, customers could be subject to a cost risk if expensive changes are necessary to meet any new requirements.

The company had initially planned to begin retrofit construction on the plant in April 2011 and go on line in June 2012. A new project timeline has not been determined, but Wallace said the draft of the ruling should be out in April, at which time Georgia Power will have an idea of whether its already-established standards will suffice. A final ruling is not expected until December 2010. Depending on what the draft brings, the project could be back on track in April. "They may come out with something within our own guidelines," she said. The timing of the final rule release and the possibility of the company having to change plans may bring Georgia Power uncomfortably close to development deadlines for tax credits and other financial incentives.

In the meantime, Georgia Power is looking into alternative boiler technologies, in case the ruling significantly impacts the cost of the planned boiler conversion. "We think it's in our best interests, just in case the current boiler doesn't meet their specifications," Wallace said.
The company does not expect to scrap the project altogether, but instead is preparing for possible changes. "We don't think that the project is going to be cancelled," Wallace said. "Our hope is it'll just be a matter of modifying our existing design, or adding new equipment."