This 2007 photo shows PowerSouth’s Lowman Power Plant at a time when it was still fully operational.

Even though it’s not the energy production powerhouse it once was, coal hasn’t been counted out just yet. It’s still one of the most affordable power generation resources available in our region.

With coal’s benefits, including abundance and affordability, come concerns about how it impacts the environment when it’s burned for power production. For this reason, much pressure has been placed on power generation companies like PowerSouth Energy, to reduce, if not altogether eliminate the use of coal as a generation resource. PowerSouth provides electricity to 16 electric distribution cooperatives in Alabama and northwest Florida, including Baldwin EMC, along with four municipalities.

The United States has more coal reserves than any other country in the world, and that abundance leads to affordability and reliability. So it’s no mystery as to why coal came to be the dominant power production fuel in the late 19th century.

However, abundance and cost aside, in the early 2000s, the byproducts of burning coal concerned federal lawmakers to the point of taking serious action. Working through the Environmental Protection Agency, they specifically targeted carbon emissions and coal combustion residuals, with the goal of passing legislation to substantially decrease both.

The effects of this legislation significantly reduced PowerSouth and its fellow generation companies’ ability to cost-effectively utilize coal for production as they did in the fuel’s heyday.

By comparison, in 2007, approximately 50% of the nation’s electric power supply was coal-based. By 2020, that number had dwindled to just 10%.

PowerSouth’s long-range prediction suggests that only 6% of its energy production mix will come from coal in the next five years.

In October of 2020, PowerSouth shut down its Lowman Power Plant in Leroy, Ala., which had been operational since 1969, employing 185 people at its peak. The facility is now being converted into a state-of-the-art 693 megawatt (MW) natural gas combined cycle plant, which is expected to be completed in 2023.

And while PowerSouth and electricity suppliers across the nation are working to incorporate more renewable and emission-free energy into their generation portfolios, keeping energy both reliable and cost-effective means abundant and affordable fossil fuels like coal can’t be completely dismissed just yet.

As with all of its power generation efforts, PowerSouth is committed to good environmental stewardship when it comes to using coal for power generation. State-of-the-art technology is being utilized every day to ensure that the concerns associated with coal-based power production don’t outweigh the benefits.

PowerSouth and its distribution members, like Baldwin EMC, are also committed to maintaining a diverse power generation mix that balances the pros and cons of each fuel source, thereby creating power that’s cost-effective, reliable and affordable.

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