Plant Washington: Coal Job Promises Overblown?

Guest Blog | April 12, 2011 | Coal, Energy Policy

nohelpwanted1Communities where coal plants are proposed, like Sandersville, GA often feel divided between protecting their environmental health and creating jobs. Now, with the release of a new report by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, they are armed with a new tool to assess job claims that may be too good to be true.

The April 2011 report from the Chattanooga-based Ochs Center makes conclusions that cast doubt over the promise of job creation at three proposed coal-fired power plants in Georgia, including Plant Washington. By analyzing employment trends in five counties that hosted the six largest coal plants to come online between 2005 and 2009, researchers found that the new coal-fired power plants created only 56% of the jobs they promised. In fact, in four of the five counties studied, only 27% of the promised jobs were realized.

When it comes to coal plants, “there are clear costs in terms of environmental and health risks, but the thing that always sells local communities [on siting the plants] is the promise of jobs,” said David Eichenthal, Ochs Center President and CEO. “What we found is that the costs are clear, but the benefits are not what they’re cracked up to be.”

money-smokestacksThe Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and its partners in the Georgians for Smart Energy coalition have long opposed the construction of three new coal plants in Georgia: Plant Washington (in Sandersville), Plant Ben Hill (in Fitzgerald) and Plant Longleaf (in Blakely), due to those environmental costs, and the costs to ratepayers. Plant Washington alone would spew soot, smog, mercury, and carbon dioxide equivalent to putting one million new cars on the road while guzzling up to 15 million gallons of water a day.

While we expect the jobs promises are exaggerated, the costs in Georgia were definitely underestimated. A 2008 report (download the PDF here) by Synapse Energy Economics found that the $2.1 billion price tag for Plant Washington (and by extenion, its twin, Ben Hill) was far below the current industry construction cost norms, and electricity from the plant was likely to be much more expensive than its promoters project. In March 2011 the Union of Concerned Scientists found coal plant costs rising nationally. Another report found that serious energy efficiency investments by the Electric Membership Corporations proposing Plant Washington would create more jobs than the plant would – and that was assuming it created as many as it promised.

Amazingly, industry response to the Ochs report indicates that overblown jobs promises and severely low-balled cost projections are par for the course.

On April 2, a National Mining Association spokesman told the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

“I think it is standard for companies to round up on direct and indirect jobs, and underestimate plant construction costs.”

Plant Washington promoters claim that “up to 1,600 jobs” will be created in Washington county during construction. According to the Ochs Center’s findings, Washington County citizens can expect only about 900 short-term construction jobs – but there’s no guarantee they’ll go to locals due to skill-level requirements. The report also found that job retention in the counties suffered during construction, suggesting that the jobs were filled by people from outside the county.

Calculate how many coal jobs you can have with the Ochs tool here!

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