Georgia Power meets deadline for reducing ozone-related power plant emissions

In 1999, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) approved a plan aimed at bringing Atlanta’s ozone levels into compliance with federal regulations by May 1, 2003, the official start of ozone season in Georgia. A major part of that plan was to dramatically reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from seven Georgia Power coal-burning power plants.

During the last four years, Georgia Power has invested $800 million to retrofit its power plants with various environmental control systems. This work included installing selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems on seven units: all four units at Plant Bowen near Cartersville, two units at Plant Wansley in Heard County and one on the largest unit at Plant Hammond near Rome. Company employees and contract workers worked more than 6.5 million hours to complete the projects.

“Georgia Power committed the time and money necessary to improve our plants because it is the right thing to do for Atlanta,” said Chris Hobson, vice president of environmental affairs at Georgia Power. “We said from the beginning that we were part of the problem and that we would be part of the solution. Today, with the successful operation of these environmental controls, we have fulfilled our commitment to do our part.”

Studies completed by Georgia Tech, Georgia Power and the EPD indicated that NOx emissions from power plants were contributing to the formation of about 15 percent of Atlanta’s ozone. The new controls will reduce NOx emissions by about 50 percent annually from 1990 levels, which will reduce Georgia Power’s contribution to Atlanta’s ozone to 6 percent.

"No other state south of Maryland or this side of California, where there are coal-fired power plants, has gone this far," said Harold Reheis, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Director. "I can`t this of a time in my last 20 years at the EPD that one company has done so much at one time."

Implementing the controls in such a short period of time is a major accomplishment, according to Chris Womack, senior vice president of generation at Georgia Power. “There is no store for SCRs. We had to individually engineer and retrofit the units and, in some cases, figure out a way to mount them 200 feet in the air.”

SCRs use ammonia to capture NOx emissions and then employ a catalyst to attract the ammonia, thus reducing the emissions. In addition to the challenge of engineering the units to meet size and space requirements, there were also operational complications to overcome. For instance, units 1 and 2 at Plant Bowen began SCR operations in the summer of 2002 but developed a problem when ash began to build up, according to Womack. That problem has been fixed by retrofitting the units with screens, which were added to the designs for units 3 and 4. “Part of our plan was to build the SCRs in stages so we could test them in operational settings and then make any changes necessary prior to the May 1, 2003, deadline,” he said.

In addition to adding the environmental controls on our plants, Georgia Power has also helped address the ozone problem with its long-standing SmartRide program, which is designed to eliminate miles traveled by single-passenger vehicles, according to Hobson. In 2002, the SmartRide program avoided 15 million miles of travel, which is equivalent to eliminating almost 60 tons of ozone-forming emissions as part of its commitments to Georgia’s Clean Air Campaign.