Residents Raise Concerns Over Plant Scherer Water Permit

The sun sets behind Georgia Power’s coal-fired Plant Scherer in Juliette, Georgia.

Branden Camp / Associated Press file

Residents of the town of Juliette, Georgia, are raising more concerns about a nearby power plant.

Plant Scherer, which is the biggest coal-fired power plant in the country, has a water permit up for review that’s coming under scrutiny.

People who live near Plant Scherer and environmental groups have been putting increased pressure lately on Georgia Power, pushing for the utility to clean up the plant’s giant coal ash pond and to address other air and water quality concerns.

At a virtual public meeting this week, the focus was on a permit required under the Clean Water Act. Critics say the permit fails to protect a creek that flows through the power plant’s property before it passes nearby homes.

“Berry Creek borders my property,” Gloria Hammond said on the Zoom meeting.

She said her children used to play in Berry Creek. But over the years, she saw the creek change, so she won’t let her grandkids in it.

“I have seen the disappearance of all wildlife down there that lived in this creek,” she said. “And I knew something was happening. And it’s not nature. It’s man-made.”

Georgia Power says the creek is included in the current permit, which was issued in 2002, and also in the new one it’s applying for.

“Clean Water Act protections fully apply to Berry Creek,” a Georgia Power spokeswoman wrote in an email. “This draft permit – as well as the current permit – regulates all outfalls to Berry Creek, including sampling and reporting requirements.”

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has final say over the water permit.

Another big issue is coming next year for Plant Scherer, when Georgia Power will apply for a permit to drain the water out of its ash pond, ahead of closing it.

Georgia Power is in the process of closing all 29 of its coal ash ponds around the state. Environmental groups want all of the ash to then be excavated and moved to fully lined landfills, but Georgia Power isn’t doing that for all the ponds. For some – including the pond at Scherer – the company plans to secure the ash where it is, a tactic critics say won’t keep toxins from leaching into groundwater.

Earlier this year, Juliette residents advocated for the state Legislature to pass a law requiring all the coal ash to be moved to landfills. That didn’t succeed. Now, dozens of residents are suing Georgia Power, claiming coal ash from Plant Scherer has contaminated groundwater and made them sick.

While Plant Scherer is now the biggest in the country, it’s not long for the top spot. Earlier this year, it was announced that one of the units at Scherer would close in 2022. But Georgia will still have the biggest coal plant in the country even after that. Georgia Power’s Plant Bowen near Cartersville is currently No. 2, according to the Sierra Club.