Coal still a 'base' resource in Alabama Power's 20-year plan
by Tim Lockette
Jan 14, 2014 | 4725 views |  0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — Alabama Power expects to begin drawing less electricity from its coal plants between now and 2017, but coal is likely to remain one of the utility's base sources of power in the future, according to a brief summary of the 20-year plan the utility drafted in 2013.

"The Company will have some existing coal capacity derated for environmental measures through 2017, but those derates should not trigger any near-term resource additions," the plan states.

Every three years Alabama Power, the state's largest utility, draws up a 20-year plan to meet the state's electrical needs. It submits that plan, called the Integrated Resource Plan or IRP, to the Public Service Commission, but only a short summary of the plan is made available to the public.

Environmental activists and the League of Women Voters have asked that a more detailed version of the plan be made public. Some have also called for hearings where the public can have input into the drafting of the plan, something that is done in many other states.

The Anniston Star requested a copy of the Integrated Resource Plan last week, and on Thursday, the Public Service Commission emailed a 15-page summary of the plan to the Star. The Star missed the email, and incorrectly reported on Sunday that the PSC had sent no documents in response.

"This document is intended to provide you with a good understanding of the dynamic process used to develop the plan, with due regard for information of a confidential and proprietary nature," PSC executive director John Garner wrote in a letter sent along with a 15-page summary of the Integrated Resource Plan.

Read 15-page summary of Alabama Power's 2013 Integrated Resource Plan

The PSC has released short summaries of earlier Integrated Resource Plans to the public, but environmentalists have long complained that those summaries fall short of the detailed plans made available in other states, which sometimes total in the hundreds of pages. Alabama Power maintains that releasing too-detailed information about its plans could affect prices the company pays for fuel.

The 15-page summary released last week bears a strong resemblance to an earlier, shorter summary of the 2010 plan, which the PSC released to activists. But the differences, where they exist, are significant.

Most notable is the mention of "derating" of coal plants between now and 2017 dues to new environmental regulations. Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said in an e-mail “derating” refers to the “loss of potential output from units for whatever reason.”

The company has already begun converting some of its coal-fired power plants so they will be able to use natural gas in addition to coal.

Sznajderman said there were no plans to close coal-fired plants.

Keith Johnston, legal director of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the 15-page document still falls short of the information available in other states.

"They say ‘these are our conclusions,’ but they don't give us the numbers behind them," he said.

Patrick Cagle, director of JobKeeper Alliance, has opposed the environmentalists' efforts to get more access to the IRP data and their call for hearings on the 20-year plan. He said the groups would use hearings as a tool to oppose the use of coal, which would cost jobs in the coal mining industry.

Cagle said the full Integrated Resource Plan gets a full review by the PSC staff and the PSC itself — even if that review isn't open to the public.

"The public is represented in the process by their elected officials," he said.

PSC spokeswoman Angier Johnson contacted The Star Tuesday afternoon to point out that The Star had missed the Thursday email. Asked for further comment, she said PSC staff were not allowed to make statements to the news media.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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