Georgia is home to three of the nation’s 100 dirtiest power plants, the Atlanta-based Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center reported Monday.

Front end loaders are dwarfed by the coal field at Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer. (Credit: Georgia Power)


Georgia Power’s Plant Bowen near Cartersville topped the Georgia list for carbon emissions and is ranked 23rd in the country.


Two of Plant Bowen’s four coal-burning units were due to be retired by 2028 under a proposal the Atlanta-based utility filed with the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) last January.


But a 14-page agreement Georgia Power and the PSC’s Public Interest Advocacy Staff reached last week would leave that decision up to the commission, contingent upon the “completion of necessary transmission system improvements.”


Environment Georgia’s new report ranks power plants across the U.S. by their contribution to climate change based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest eGRID data.


The dirtiest power plants have an outsized impact: In 2020, the 10 most climate-polluting plants in Georgia were responsible for 91.5% of global warming emissions from the power sector despite only generating 56.5% of total electricity, according to the report.

“Our changing climate affects every aspect of our lives, from the air we breathe in our neighborhoods to the food we grow in Georgia,” said Jennette Gayer, Environment Georgia’s state director.


“Dirty power plants threaten our health and the climate, yet these super-polluters have filled the skies with pollution for decades without consequence. We need to hold the worst power plants accountable for damaging our climate.”


While Plant Bowen burns coal, eight of Georgia’s 10 dirtiest power plants are fired by methane gas. New research on methane leaks finds that the emissions associated with extracting and transporting methane are a serious climate problem.


Although burning methane gas releases less carbon dioxide than burning coal, the report ranked Plant McDonough, a gas-fired plant near Smryna, as the state’s second dirtiest.


Coal-burning Plant Scherer, near Macon, was third on Georgia’s dirtiest-plants list.


To get power plant pollution under control, the report recommends limiting emissions from power plants and accelerating Georgia’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Georgia Power is proposing to expand its renewable energy portfolio by 2,300 megawatts by 2029.


Environmental advocates are worried a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected this month in a West Virginia case could hamstring the EPA’s ability to set limits on carbon emissions from power plants.

“We can repower our state more cleanly and safely with renewable energy,” Gayer said. “We hope the Public Service Commission will take steps to shut down Plant Bowen, our state’s dirtiest power plant.”

Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft responded to the Environment Georgia report by noting the utility has reduced its carbon emissions by 60% since 2007 and now relies on coal for only 15% of its energy generating capacity.

“We are committed to making smart investments today so that our customers can continue to have clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy for decades to come,” he said.

“Our long-term planning process, the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), has allowed us to work with the Georgia Public Service Commission to make significant, cost-effective and reliable resource planning decisions that have resulted in a mix of lower-carbon energy resources that benefit all customers.”

Top 10 dirtiest power plants in Georgia (2020)

Plant       County    Fuel Carbon dioxide equivalent emissions*

Bowen     Bartow    Coal 7.93

McDonough    Cobb       Gas 6.89

Scherer   Monroe    Coal 6.86

McIntosh Effingham       Gas 3.28

Wansley (55965)     Heard      Gas 3.14

Smith Energy Facility      Murray    Gas 2.84

Yates      Coweta   Gas 1.35

Chattahoochee Energy Facility       Heard      Gas 1.28

Wansley (7946)       Heard      Gas 1.21

Effingham Energy Facility       Gas 1.12

*million metric tons

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams | Capitol Beat

Dave Williams is the Bureau Chief of Capitol Beat News Service.