Sierra Club study finds Georgia Power’s Bartow County coal-fired plant among country’s dirtiest

Georgia Power sign at Plant McDonough-Atkinson in Cobb County accompanying article about restory powerGeorgia Power sign at Plant McDonough-Atkinson in Cobb County (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

February 28, 2023

A new Sierra Club study estimates that coal-fired power Plant Bowen in Bartow County is one of the nation’s most out-of-control polluters  with its smokestacks to blame for 59 premature deaths in the last few years.

The Sierra Club report ranks Bowen as the 17th most dangerous in the nation, primarily caused by the soot-emitting coal power plants that the organization says have led to 3,800 premature deaths across the nation. Plant Bowen will be the state’s last coal-fired power generator in operation when state regulators will decide in 2025 the timeline to shut down its units as Georgia Power transitions to cleaner forms of energy.  

Charline Whyte, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a statement that Bowen remains a massive polluter that’s forced people in surrounding Bartow County to inhale dirty air for decades. 

“This report shows that thanks to Bowen, 59 Georgians die per year due to exposure to toxic soot pollution that causes asthma and other health issues,” Whyte said. “Last year, the Georgia Public Service Commission decided to keep the coal burning at Plant Bowen, despite Georgia Power asking to close Bowen down. One human life is worth fighting for, let alone over 50 per year. Unfortunately, the PSC’s bad decisions will result in more unnecessary deaths.”

The latest environmental report comes four months after the Sierra Club also scored low marks for Georgia Power parent Southern Co. in its second edition of  the group’s “Dirty Truth” report, imploring the state’s largest utility to accelerate retirement of coal plants, put a halt to building new natural gas plants and to invest more in clean energy.

Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said Monday that the company has been proud of Bowen’s economic impact in northwest Georgia’s Cartersville community for decades and takes seriously its responsibility to operate safely.

“We have invested billions of dollars at our power plants, including Plant Bowen, to add environmental controls and continue to reduce emissions,” Kraft said.In addition, our investments in our generation fleet have reduced carbon emissions from our power plants by more than 60% since 2007, and other emissions by more than 95% since 1990, while providing reliable service to a growing population in the state.”

In 2021, a Southern Alliance for Clean Energy analysis called for Georgia Power to pick up the pace in closing down its remaining coal-fired power plants as the company transitioned from dozens of legacy polluters across the state toward cleaner forms of energy production. The nonprofit organization scored Georgia Power higher than most other utilities located in the Southeast for progress it plans to make to cut down carbon emissions at its plants by 60% within the next several years.

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