Greene County Steam Plant to switch to natural gas, cut staff in half

Published 12:01 pm Friday, August 1, 2014

Citing federal regulations, Alabama Power announced Friday that the Greene County Steam Plant will switch from coal to natural gas and the staff there will be cut in half.

The reduction in staff from 120 to 60 employees is expected to be done through attrition and transfers between now and April 2016, avoiding layoffs.

Alabama Power said federal environmental regulations are forcing the company to close two coal-fired generating units at Plant Gorgas in Walker County and reduce or eliminate the ability to use coal at Plant Greene County and Plant Barry in Mobile County.

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The two units at Gorgas will close will units at Greene County and Barry will start using natural gas instead of coal. No changes in the number of employees at Gorgas or Barry are expected.

“Federal environmental mandates are forcing 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.”

Alabama Power said over the past decade it has spent over $3 billion to meet federal environmental standards and are in the process of spending another $1 billion to comply with new air emissions regulations.

Since 1996, Alabama Power has reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by more than 80 percent, according to the company. Ongoing projects to add environmental technology on coal units at Plant Gorgas and at Plant Gaston in Shelby County are expected to further reduce emissions.

Company officials said they are committed to keeping all its generating facilities open — to the extent doing so is cost-effective for customers.

“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 makes the jobs they provide even more important.”

“Fuel diversity helps protect customers from price volatility and potential shortages of any one fuel source,” Heilbron added. “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.”