Plant Branch cooling tower begins full commercial operation

Georgia Power has begun full commercial operation of a $40 million cooling tower at Plant Branch, the company`s third-largest coal-fired generating plant.

The cooling tower is the culmination of an agreement between Georgia Power, the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Sierra Club to resolve the issue of hot water discharges from Plant Branch into the Beaver Dam Creek arm of Lake Sinclair. The company signed a memorandum of agreement with the organizations, clearing the way for construction of the cooling tower. The memorandum of agreement represented a settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and allowed the company to eliminate a bottleneck in the water discharge permitting process.

"The tower will alleviate fish kills during periods of very hot summer weather," said Chris Hobson, Georgia Power`s vice president of environmental affairs. "This helper cooling tower, which differs from the standard type of cooling tower in that it does not recirculate water back into the plant, will reduce the temperature of the discharges by about 20 degrees."

Hobson emphasized that the company has been working for years to address the issue of hot water discharges, before fish kills were reported in 2000 and 1998. "The tower will be operational this summer, a full nine months before we are required to have it up and running," he said.

The cooling tower is 864 feet long, 96 feet wide and 55 feet high. It features four pumps pumping 100,000 gallons per minute and 32 fans to cool the plant`s discharge water. Construction began in July 2000.

Georgia Power will perform biological studies during the summers of 2002 and 2003 to demonstrate that the tower will protect fish next to Plant Branch, even when the plant is operating at full capacity during the hottest summer weather.

Similar cooling towers will be built at Georgia Power`s Plant McDonough near Smyrna and Plant Yates near Newnan. The total cost of the cooling towers at plants Branch, McDonough and Yates will be approximately $175 million.

In addition to the cooling tower, Plant Branch has added $10 million in clean air controls since 1990 and will add at least another $14 million by May 2003.

Georgia Power is the largest subsidiary of Southern Company, one of the nation’s largest generators of electricity. The company is an investor-owned, tax-paying utility, serving customers in 57,000 of the state’s 59,000 square miles. Georgia Power’s rates are more than 15 percent below the national average and its 1.8 million customers are in all but six of Georgia’s 159 counties.