Georgia Power has a long history of reducing emissions from our power plants while still meeting the ever-growing electricity demands of one of the fastest-growing states in the U.S. However, we are still striving to improve, as additional emissions controls and reductions are in progress and will be completed over the next several years, bringing the total investment in cleaner air to approximately $7 billion. These investments equip our coal-fired power plants with the latest environmental controls to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury.
SO2 comes from the sulfur found naturally in coal when it is burned in a boiler to produce electricity. SO2 is a contributor to acid rain, fine particulate matter, and also contributes to visibility issues in our national parks and wilderness areas.
Early reductions in SO2 began in the mid-1990s, resulting from purchases of lower-sulfur coals. However, the dramatic reductions in the last several years are the result of installing "scrubbers." Scrubbers are systems that remove SO2 using limestone in the cleaning process, which produces gypsum—a material that has several uses, such as the production of wallboard or as fertilizer. These systems remove over 95 percent of the SO2 produced by the burning of coal. Georgia Power pioneered scrubber technology for power plants in the early 1990s with a system installed at Plant Yates, Unit 1. Scrubbers are installed and are being utilized at plants Bowen, Hammond, Wansley, and Scherer. By late 2015, when the last scrubbers are scheduled to begin operations, all of Georgia Power's large coal-fired power plants will be scrubbed.
NOx emissions result from the combustion of any material, including coal, gasoline, natural gas, or even leaves in your yard. NOx is a principal contributor to the formation of ozone in the air, mostly on hot summer days. Ozone is a respiratory irritant and can trigger health effects such as asthma attacks. NOx emissions are regulated by the state of Georgia as part of their overall planning to manage ozone formation.
While automobile emissions of NOx are a principal contributor to ozone formation, Georgia Power has made significant investments to reduce our emissions of NOx. Georgia Power NOx emissions have been reduced by 89% since 1990—even as Georgia's electricity use has grown dramatically. To achieve these results, Georgia Power operates selective catalytic reduction systems (SCRs) at Plants Bowen, Hammond, Scherer, and Wansley.
The SCRs are similar to catalytic converters in an automobile. They work by adding ammonia to the emissions exiting through the boiler, where a catalyzed chemical reaction breaks down the nitrogen oxides into harmless nitrogen and water. At Plant Bowen, one of the nation's largest coal-fired generating plants, SCRs have reduced NOx emissions by 85 percent, giving Plant Bowen one of the lowest levels of NOx emissions for any plant its size in the world!
Mercury is a trace impurity in coal that is released when the coal is burned. The combination of scrubbers (to reduce SO2) and SCRs (to remove NOx) will also remove significant amounts of mercury at the plants where they are installed. We have seen that plants with scrubbers and SCRs installed have reduced mercury emissions by more than 80 percent.
In addition, Georgia Power is operating baghouses to reduce mercury at Plant Scherer near Macon. Baghouses act as enormous vacuum cleaners to filter out solid particles, so additional solids like activated carbon can be injected into the baghouse to capture mercury from the gas to reduce emissions. At Plant Scherer, the emission gases are filtered through 20,000 fabric bags that are 26 feet long and approximately 5 inches around.
All of these systems have resulted in an estimated 87 percent reduction in Georgia Power's mercury emissions since 2007.
Replacing Coal With Natural Gas
Georgia Power has recently completed the conversion of Plant McDonough, a 1960s vintage coal-fired plant, into a larger-capacity power plant that uses natural gas. The conversion replaced 540 megawatts of coal-fired generation, with more than 2,500 megawatts of natural gas generation—enough to supply 625,000 homes. Switching to natural gas will dramatically reduce our emissions in the metro Atlanta area. This project has reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides by 95 percent, sulfur dioxide by 99 percent, and mercury by 100 percent, when compared with the operation of the coal-fired units. In addition, the plant's rate of carbon dioxide emissions will decrease by well over 50 percent.
Learn more about Plant McDonough's conversion to natural gas.
Adding Zero-Emission Nuclear Power
To meet Georgia's growing demand for electricity, Georgia Power is building two additional nuclear units at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant near Augusta. The two 1,100-megawatt units will come on line in 2016-2017. Nuclear power is cost-competitive, clean, and offers fuel diversity to the company's generation mix. It has the added benefit of no air emissions, including carbon dioxide. Georgia Power has safe, reliable on-site options to store the used fuel at our nuclear plants.
Learn more about the project at Plant Vogtle
Did You Know?
Georgia Power has added selective catalytic reduction systems (SCRs) that are similar to catalytic converters in automobiles. They work by converting the chemicals into less harmful substances. By adding ammonia to the emissions exiting through the boiler, the catalyzed chemical reaction breaks the nitrogen oxides down to harmless nitrogen and water.
What Can You Do?
Join a growing community of Georgians who support our environment and help generate more renewable power in Georgia.
Georgia Power's Smart Meters initiative has saved an estimated 4.5 million miles of vehicle travel since the project began in 2007.
Solar is a renewable and emissions-free energy source. Find out how Georgia Power is utilizing solar and if it's an option for your home.
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