Plant Scherer

Plant Scherer

An owner of Plant Scherer has decided to close one of the plant’s four units, a move sure to spark fears about the future of Monroe County’s biggest taxpayer and private employer. The move means that as of 2022, the plant will no longer be the world’s biggest coal plant, according to Power Magazine.

The magazine said the Jacksonville (Fla.) Electric Authority (JEA) and Florida Power & Light (FPL) have owned the 848-MW Unit 4 at Plant Scherer since 1989. JEA’s board on June 26 entered into a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with FPL for natural gas-fired and possibly solar power generation. That generation will replace the power output from Unit 4 at Scherer, leading FPL—which owns 76% of the unit—to say it will close that generator by Jan. 1, 2022. The PPA is expected to be in effect by that date. Scherer’s other three units will continue to burn coal, and JEA will continue with its ownership stake until Unit 4 is fully decommissioned.

“This has been a successful mutually beneficial partnership and is just one of such joint asset ownership and operating agreements between JEA and FPL, including the St. Johns River Power Park and 500kv [kilovolt] transmission lines,” said Paul McElroy, JEA interim CEO and managing director, in a statement. “While the past several years have presented challenges and difficult circumstances, with the JEA sale process over and behind us, the time is right to focus on future operating partnerships. We continue to create value for both utilities and extend our strong operating relationship with FPL.”

Georgia Power, which operates Plant Scherer, began operation of the facility’s first unit in 1982, in  Juliette. The plant eventually grew to four coal-fired units, each with several utilities owning various percentages of those units. The plant’s generation capacity of about 3,520 MW makes it the largest coal-fired power plant in the U.S.

Plant Scherer in 2017 was chosen as the Powder River Basin Coal Users’ Group Plant of the Year.

With the closure of Unit 4 at Scherer, Georgia Power’s Plant Bowen, located near Euharlee, will become the nation’s largest coal plant, with generation capacity of nearly 3,400 MW.

For its part, Georgia Power said it has not announced any plans to retire any units at Plant Scherer. 

“Georgia Power has not announced any planned retirement for its units at Plant Scherer,” said Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft. “The Company provides an evaluation of units in its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) filed every three years with the Public Service Commission, the next of which will be filed in January, 2022. We will continue to operate our coal generating plants as long as they provide economic benefits for customers.”

District 3 county commissioner John Ambrose, whose district includes Plant Scherer, said he had heard that Unit 4 had sold. He said he didn’t know how it would affect local property taxes but hoped that Georgia Power or another owner would take over Unit 4 and keep it going. Plant Scherer pays about 40 percent of the property taxes for Monroe County government and schools. Plant manager Mike Burroughs told the Reporter last summer that the plant’s future was bright as the company has invested billions of dollars in new environmental technologies to curb emissions. Company officials have called Plant Scherer the Cadillac of coal plants. The plant is also spending millions to convert from wet ash to dry ash storage. The plant has been under fire from neighbors concerned that the plant may be contaminating their wells, a charge Georgia Power has denied. Monroe County recently borrowed $20 million to extend water lines to homes around Plant Scherer.

Much of the information in this story is used with permission courtesy of Darrell Proctor of Power magazine.