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Jeff Gore Resume -- All Flagpole Features, Two City Pages Stories

Jeff Gore Resume -- All Flagpole Features, Two City Pages Stories

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Published by: Jeff Gore on Jul 13, 2013
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he era of environmental conscious-ness has placed coal in an unflat-tering light. It’s dirty, it makesyou sick, and it’s hell to get to.But burning coal remains the nation’s pri-mary source of electricity and a big business,providing economic fuel for businessmenand common folk alike. Thus, nowadays, thebuilding of a coal plant has become a gut-wrenching drama full of inflamed emotions,unfounded accusations and allegations of cor-ruption. But it also raises some serious ques-tions about what our priorities really are. Justask the people of Sandersville, GA.On Aug. 25, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) issued draft per-mits to a coal-fired power plant proposedto be built roughly six miles northeast of Sandersville. Named after the county thatcalls Sandersville its seat, Plant Washington’sconstruction is estimated to cost a shadeover two billion dollars and to claim 1,200acres of land. In January 2008, a consortiumof five Georgia electric membership coop-eratives (EMCs)—Cobb EMC, Central GeorgiaEMC, Snapping Shoals EMC, Upson EMC andWashington EMC—formed a limited liabilitycompany called “Power4Georgians” and, nearlysimultaneously, applied for Plant Washington’spermits. By granting these draft permits,Georgia EPD effectively gave its blessing toPower4Georgians’ development plans, leavingonly two hurdles on the road to the final per-mits: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)approval and public opinion. Although EPDofficials warn that their decision to approvethe plant is “not a popularity contest,” statelaw requires the agency to listen to, recordand evaluate public sentiment. And with timerunning out—acceptance of input ends onOct. 27—more and more Georgians are voicingtheir feelings on the plant.
Safe for the environment?
The most visible resistance to PlantWashington and Power4Georgians comes fromenvironmental activists. On one issue, how-ever, the two sides agree: Georgians are indanger.In the future, Power4Georgians warns,Georgia citizens will choose between limitedelectric supply (and, presumably, blackouts)and reliable, privatized electric supply fromwholesalers (presumably at exorbitant prices).Plant Washington offers a third option: suf-ficient energy at affordable prices.Opponents charge that if the new plant isbuilt, the ensuing emissions will not only con-tribute to a growing global warming problem,but also endanger the health and livelihoodsof people both in the immediate vicinity of the plant and around the state.To marshal opposition to the plant, TheSouthern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) hasorganized “citizen hearings” around the state,the transcripts of which they have submittedto the EPD. Groups like SACE and their citizencounterparts have pointed out that annually,Plant Washington could emit up to 6.2 mil-lion tons of CO2 and 106 pounds of mercury,along with other unsavory substances likenitrous oxide, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxideand particulate matter. “Georgia is jam-packedwith coal plants. We don’t need another,”says Rebecca Van Damm, an organizer withthe Southern Energy Network. Van Damm isorganizing opponents of the plant to attendan EPD public forum in Sandersville on Oct.20, at which they can voice their opinions onpublic record. (Comments may also be emailedto epdcomments@dnr.state.ga.us.)Plant Washington, if constructed, will bethe eighth major coal plant in the state andthe first coal-fired facility built in Georgiasince 1989, when Plant Scherer’s fourth unitbecame operational. Existing plants are old,reminds Power4Georgians spokesman DeanAlford, and with state-of-the-art technology,Plant Washington will emit, “megawatt formegawatt,” only a third of what archaic plantslike Scherer and Wansley belch out daily. AndAlford is quick to point out that the plantwill burn coal from the Powder River Basin inWyoming and the Illinois Basin, which will notbe mined using the “mountaintop removal”method that has gained almost unanimousenmity amongst Americans in recent years.Regarding opposition to the plant, Alford says,“You’ve got some people that are opposed tocoal no matter what happens.”The emission of mercury, a known neuro-toxin, has been the linchpin of the environ-mental argument against Plant Washington.An inevitable byproduct of burning coal,airborne mercury eventually settles into thesurrounding soil and water and, through aprocess known as bioaccumulation, gradu-ally builds up in the tissue of living organ-isms. Most human exposure to mercury comesthrough eating contaminated fish. After theEPA failed to enforce a nationwide mercurystandard, Georgia passed its own mercuryrule in 2007, imposing mercury emissionslimits on plants with capacities larger than150 megawatts. “Georgia actually has someof the strongest mercury emissions rules inthe nation,” says Dr. Michael Chang, an atmo-spheric scientist at Georgia Tech. Becausemercury, like other heavy metals, “doesn’tgo away,” Dr. Chang says, the vast majorityof mercury in Georgia streams and rivers is“legacy mercury,” pumped with abandon fromsmokestacks before the age of regulation.Plant Washington’s contribution to mercurylevels, then, may even be negligible: “It’s abig ocean of mercury out there,” Chang says,“and the amount that you’re putting in is cup-fuls at a time.”Another concern to some Georgians is theplant’s effect on groundwater. When operat-ing at full capacity, Plant Washington will require daily 16 million gallons of water, mostof which will come from the Oconee River. Butwhen river levels are low, the plant will relyon a series of wells to draw water from theground. EPD officials estimate that this will be necessary for five to six months out a five-year period. The EPD’s state geologist, JimKennedy, says that the plant’s 15 wells wouldbe spread out along a 20-mile line to mini-mize impact to the aquifer.No matter what the level of resistance fromenvironmental groups, Power4Georgians car-ries quite the trump card: Plant Washington,as planned and as reviewed by the GeorgiaEPD, will meet all existing environmental rules and standards. “These are the absolutemost stringent limits that have ever been pro-posed for any power plant ever in the UnitedStates,” said Jac Capp, chief of the EPD’s AirProtection Branch, at a recent question-and-answer session in Sandersville regarding theplant. (Currently, power plants are held to noemissions standard regarding CO2, but theObama administration is expected to imposeone.) The underlying question remains: Areenvironmentalists more upset with PlantWashington or with the regulations that will likely allow Plant Washington to exist? MidgeSweet, coordinator of Georgians for SmartEnergy, is frank about her feelings toward theEPD: “I think we’re beginning to see that EPDis not a protection division, but a permittingdivision.”
economically viable?
The basic gist of Power4Georgians’ case forPlant Washington is this: as Georgia grows,so must its power supply. Georgia Powerand the Oglethorpe Power Corporation—thelargest supply cooperative in the UnitedStates—satisfy a sizable share of Georgia’spower needs, but not all of them. The remain-der is filled by wholesale power supplierswho sell power to the state’s various EMCs.According to Power4Georgians, many contractswith these suppliers are set to expire in 2013.(If approved, Plant Washington’s construc-tion will take from four to five years.) Newcontracts with these suppliers, even if avail-able, will significantly raise electricity prices,perhaps leading to energy crises like 2008’sgas price spike. Consumers enjoy little agencyin this troubling scenario, a residual from the“Enron era,” when power suppliers were muchmore plentiful, and, therefore, electricity wasmuch cheaper. Now, fewer companies hold thereins.“Electric rates are going to go up, period.The question is how much,” says Alford, whopromises that power generated from EMC-controlled Plant Washington will be friendlierto the average Georgian’s wallet. “If we don’tdo everything we can to keep the costs of energy controlled,” he adds, “we’re going toimpoverish the citizens of the state.”Despite Power4Georgia’s seeminglyclear plan, many economic uncertaintiescontinue to plague the project. Originally,Power4Georgians consisted of 10 EMCs, but inMay of this year, four of them—Jackson EMC,Excelsior EMC, Diverse Power and GreystonePower—pulled out of the consortium, eachciting an unpredictable regulatory environ-ment in Washington. (Because Pataula EMChas been absorbed by Cobb EMC, this articlerefers to five remaining EMCs rather than six.)Congress, it seems, will soon pass climate leg-islation; whether it takes the form of cap-and-trade, diversified energy portfolios or simplemonetary penalties, energy providers will soonpay to pollute.“Coal has been a very economical source of energy, but it may not continue to be,” saysBonnie Jones, director of communicationsfor Jackson EMC. In recent years, her EMC’sgrowth has slowed considerably, and JacksonEMC has experienced “negative growth” sofar this year. Phone calls to the three otherwithdrawn EMCs yielded similar news: theirgrowth, too, is slowing to a crawl. In contrast,Power4Georgians’ graphs and projections showconsumer demand as a line traveling steadilyupwards. (Calls to the remaining members of Power4Georgians, with the exception of UpsonEMC, either went unreturned or were redi-rected to Dean Alford.)Moreover, state-sponsored conservationmeasures could slow demand for new powergeneration facilities. A seminal Georgia Techpaper, “Meta-Review of Efficiency Potential Studies and their Implications for the South,”concludes that “full deployment of energy-efficient technologies… would entirely offsetthe need to expand electric generation capac-ity in the South through the year 2020.” Acompilation of numerous reports, the paper—co-authored by Dr. Marilyn Brown, who, asa member of an intergovernmental climatechange panel, shared the 2007 Nobel PeacePrize with Al Gore—asserts that “with vigor-ous policies, it is possible to reduce energyconsumption in the South by one percent peryear, which would more than eliminate theprojected growth in energy demand in theregion.” Such policies could include stringentenergy codes for buildings and new stan-dards for appliances, addressing, for example,
 J   A   S   O  N    C  R   O   S  B  Y  
Te Question of 
Plant Washington
GeorGia eyeS a new coal-fired Power Plant
“vampire appliances” that use power evenwhen turned off.
matterS of truSt
The peskiest questions for PlantWashington, which could prove more cripplingeven than sizable economic uncertainties, maysurround the personal travails of some of itsmost prominent and involved backers.The troubles of Cobb EMC’s CEO, DwightBrown, have been well-documented by the
 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
in recent months.In April, the
reported on allegations thatBrown, along with three others of Cobb EMC’sboard of directors, had siphoned money fromthe EMC and redirected it to a for-profit sub-sidiary, Cobb Energy. The current allegationsecho charges of similar malfeasance in 2008which were settled in court last December,leaving Brown, nonetheless, at the EMC’s helmuntil next year. The EMC has also been criti-cized for the lapses in its board of directorselection cycle: due to internal strife, the 2008elections were never held, and this year’s havebeen postponed.Alford dismisses any linking of DwightBrown’s troubles to Plant Washington, claim-ing the controversy “has nothing to do withPower4Georgians and has no influence [onPlant Washington] whatsoever.” He alsoasserts that Cobb EMC has no more powerwithin the consortium than the other fourEMCs. But the initial registration papers forPower4Georgians list Dwight Brown as an“organizer” of the consortium. The fact thateach EMC’s financial stake in Plant Washingtonis roughly proportional to its size would alsosuggest that Alford understates Cobb’s stakein the consortium: with just under 200,000members, it is far larger than the other fourEMCs combined.There are also questionable ties betweenBrown and Alford, many of which were firstbroached by the SACE’s “Footprints” blog.Alford is the CEO of Allied Energy Services,which Power4Georgians chose, with noapparent bidding process, to develop PlantWashington. (“Power4Georgians made thedecision to go get the most qualified people,and not necessarily go out and get the lowestbid,” says Alford.) Allied is owned by CobbEnergy, the subsidiary of Cobb EMC. Alford isalso a senior vice-president of Cobb Energyand confirmed that he is in a real estate busi-ness with Brown “and about 19 other people.”These intersections might be unremarkablewere not Brown’s and Alford’s companies bothsubsidiaries of a publicly-owned, non-profitcooperative that hasn’t had a board electionin more than two years. Brown could not bereached for comment.
the localS
First-time visitors to Sandersville, GA will not return home unfamiliar with the word“kaolin.” Driving into town, you may encoun-ter a strip mall named “Kaolin Plaza,” and if you pick up a copy of the
Sandersville Progress
,the town’s daily newspaper, you may readabout the upcoming “Kaolin Festival.” Theclay mineral, used in porcelain, high-qualitymagazine paper and many other products, wasonce the heart and soul of the Sandersvilleeconomy, powering a county known as “thekaolin capital of the world.”Today, for a variety of reasons, the titlerings rather hollow. Sandersville Chamber of Commerce President Theo McDonald guessesthat the town’s kaolin industry peaked in thelate 1980s and began a slow decline there-after, shifting into “a very rapid decline” inthe past few years. He says that the kaolinindustry has shed some 350 jobs in the lastthree years alone, a harrowing developmentfor a county with a workforce of only 9,000people. McDonald estimates Sandersville’s cur-rent unemployment rate at around 15 percent,making it little surprise that he is “firmly insupport” of Plant Washington: “I think it’s agreat economic development opportunity forthe community,” he says.According to Power4Georgians, PlantWashington will create over a thousand tem-porary positions during the construction of the plant and over 120 full-time jobs oncethe plant is operational. It also promises todouble Washington County’s tax base, whichwould mean more money for schools and otherpublic services. Finally, the useful byproductsof the plant, like gypsum and coal ash, couldattract other manufacturers to set up shopnear Sandersville.A look at Page 10A of the
dated Sept. 30, 2009 yields a full-page advertisement with the headline, “WeSupport Plant Washington!” Beneath are thenames of roughly 200 people who, beyondgoing on record with their support of theplant, helped pay for the advertisement.According to
publisher Teresa Heinz,the bottom line to most people in Sandersvilleis economics. “If you say that this project will revitalize their community, they’ll support it,”she says.Indeed, though the town seems divided,it doesn’t seem divided evenly. There wereno objections to be found among the staff at Fox’s Pizza: “I’m looking forward to it get-ting approved,” said owner Mike Wells, whoalso attended the EPD’s question-and-answersession later that evening (Oct. 6). Wells’employee, Paul Harlan, agreed, pointing outthat neighboring Milledgeville has few prob-lems with its coal plant. Besides, he says,“small towns like these are drying up.”Still, there are dissenters. At a salon tuckedinto one of Sandersville’s historic downtownbuildings, an elderly woman named Peggy (shewithheld her last name) was quick to com-ment. “It concerns me,” she said. “I have alot of allergy problems, and to think that I’mbreathing polluted air is upsetting to me…[and] I worry about whether they’re going todry up my well.” She also suggested that somecitizens may fear local job blacklisting result-ing from public opposition to the plant. Troy,a hairdresser at the salon, had this to add ashe pulled his comb through a customer’s hair:“I can promise you this: it’s coming.”
what’S next?
Given the growing acknowledgment of global warming as a major problem, and giventhe increasing economic viability of renew-able energy as an alternative to fossil fuels,it appears that America’s relationship withcoal is souring. The idea of “clean coal,” aterm spawned largely from a public relationseffort on the part of the coal industry, hasbeen met with a spirited and surprisinglywell-funded media counteroffensive. Since2006, plans for more than 20 proposed coal plants have been cancelled in the UnitedStates, and plans for three dozen more havebeen delayed. On a local level, a bill has beenintroduced in the Georgia General Assemblythat, if passed, would place a moratorium onnew coal plants. (This would not include PlantWashington, as its permit applications weresubmitted before July 1 of this year.) Yet,despite a general cooling of attitudes towardscoal, Plant Washington pushes steadily along,from the drawing board to concrete reality. Of the uncertain economic and regulatory roadahead, Dean Alford is unfazed: “For someoneto say there’s uncertainty… my friend, life isfull of uncertainty. It’s a part of the way youdo business.”
Jeff Gore
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be fair, Sandi Turner and her husband Chris Wyrickhad already started weaning themselves off of big-box stores (think Wal-Mart, Target, etc.) longbefore Jan. 1 of this year. Sandi, the Athens-ClarkeCounty government’s public information officer by day, oftenwent gift shopping at Toula’s. Chris, a painter and occasional golf caddy, frequented the White Tiger Gourmet. And two yearsago, the couple discovered Woodland Gardens—an organicfarm in Winterville—and have bought produce from there eversince.But Sandi and Chris also spend much of their time runningMercury Art Works, their gallery. Part of the job involves mak-ing the art-viewing experience as comfortable as possible, sothey would still make regulartrips to big-box stores to buydrinks and hors d’oeuvres forthe gallery. It was in one of these stores that the sparkoccurred: an incident that wasthe catalyst for couple’s deci-sion to cut the cord for good.Sandi and an intern for thegallery were at the checkoutcounter, hoping to purchase(among other items) some bot-tles of wine to be served laterthat night. The cashier askedto see both of their IDs; theintern—who was over 21—hadforgotten hers. Although Sandihad her own ID and paymentin hand, the cashier refused tosell her the wine. “If that hadbeen a locally owned store,or a store where I had a rela-tionship with the owner, theywould have known my buyinghistory, they would have known
… it would have been atotally different circumstance,”Sandi says.Not long after the incident,the couple sat down and dis-cussed a plan of action for the“experiment” that had alreadybeen gestating in their minds.They fleshed out the details of staying loyal to the local: Doesa fast food chain owned by somebody from Athens count aslocal? (No.) Does a local supermarket that sells mostly corpo-rate products still count? (Yes.) What is local? (Chris gives aradius of “30 to 50 miles,” while Sandi answers with a rhetori-cal question: “Where am I at that moment?”) Like millions of other self-directed promises, the couple’s pledge to try to buyonly local products was born on the first day of 2009. Unlike somany of those other promises, this one has yet to be broken.
lthough Sandi and Chris had already converted to local produce before the experiment officially began, the sub- ject of food still dominates their story. After all, nowhereis the difference between the corporate product and the local product more glaring, more accessible to all of the senses, thanin food. Of the decision to eat locally grown, organic produce,Sandi says, “It changed our life, hands down.”But as Sandi admits, the food aspect of buying local wasthe easy part. What about those non-edible essentials liketoilet paper? Luckily for Sandi and Chris, Bell’s Supermarket, astore with local roots dating back to 1925, is right around thecorner. Russ Bell, the vice president, went to high school withSandi.Bell’s Supermarket is probably not the first image thatcomes to an Athenian’s mind when envisioning stops on theBuy Local campaign trail. Not only does the store look like theantithesis of a bustling, vibrant farmer’s market, but the prod-ucts that line the shelves there often come from the factoriesof large multinational corporations. In response to this obser-vation, Sandi cites a 2004 study by the group Civic Economicswhich found that, on average, 68 out of every 100 dollarsspent in locally owned businesses stays in town (the figure wasonly $43 for chain stores). “That’s what we care about,” shesays. Sandi adds that “it would be naïve of us to think that wecould get every single solitary product we need to live our lifefrom here.”Not that shopping at Bell’s has been a painful experience.In fact, Chris is quick to go to bat for the store: “I can seeover the aisles [there]… whereas you get in the canyon of Kroger, you feel like you’rebeing swamped by all thisstuff,” he says. Chris then tellsa story about a Bell’s cashierwho felt that the price of aproduct the couple was buyingmay have been too high, andwent to check if it was correct.And Sandi, who recorded local-to-chain price comparisons fora period of time, also points toBell’s as evidence that shop-ping locally isn’t necessarilymore expensive.So food and toiletries aretaken care of. What about gas?The Golden Pantry, headquar-tered in Bogart. Coffee? JitteryJoe’s, opened in 1994 nextto the 40 Watt. Shoes, socks,T-shirts? Bulldog SportingGoods. And the couple givesplenty of credit to Athens forbeing, well, Athens. “I havehad many experiences withpeople from out of town mar-veling that our downtown hasso many independent shops,”Sandi says.
ike any discipline, this oneincluded relatively minorparting pains and tempta-tions for Sandi and Chris, buta more genuine drawback wasthe loss of the convenience factor: they could no longer getwhatever they wanted whenever they wanted. In retrospect,however, the couple welcomes the idea of limitations. “There issomething really liberating from a creative perspective abouthaving a constraint like this… it draws your focus to a certainplace,” says Sandi. And although the idea of planning mealsmay sound a bit dull for some, it certainly has grown on Sandiand Chris, who both frequently return to the word “mindful”when discussing their experiment.The two, though uniformly satisfied with their decision,each point to different sources of fulfillment. To Sandi, thecreation of new friendships and strengthening of existingbonds is key. “Changing our buying habits in this way is creat-ing all these crazy, fun relationships with all these really nicepeople,” she says. To Chris, it’s the health factor—not only dothey eat better, but they eat less. In other words, the local faredoesn’t leave you wanting more.Perhaps most importantly, Sandi and Chris aren’t goinganywhere. They’re busy remodeling their living space in theChase Street warehouse complex, and Sandi envisions plantinga green roof in a couple years. “I think a sustainable economyis naturally going to have more chance for success when thepeople invested in it live in it,” she says.
Jeff Gore
B  E  N   O   S  T  Y  N  
Not Looking Back
Cutting the Cord with Big-BoxStores and Buying Totally Local
Sandi Turner picks up her weekly Woodland Gardens produce box fromAlex White earlier this month.

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