In October of 2020, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, Baldwin EMC’s wholesale power supplier, closed its 52-year-old coal-fired Lowman Plant in Leroy, Ala., and began building a state-of-the-art 693 megawatt (MW) natural gas combined cycle plant in its place.
When complete, this facility will be among the most technologically advanced, efficient and environmentally sound generating plants in the country. Scheduled for completion in 2023, the Lowman Energy Center will have the ability to serve the around-the-clock energy needs of more than 300,000 homes per year.
This new energy center is a part of PowerSouth’s efforts to reduce the amount of coal being used for power generation, while still maintaining a supply mix that’s both reliable and affordable for its member systems, like Baldwin EMC.
Like coal and oil, natural gas is a fossil fuel formed beneath the earth’s surface from the remains of plants and animals that have been broken down through natural processes.
Natural gas has been a part of PowerSouth’s energy supply mix for many years, but wasn’t the dominant resource until recently, when the fuel became more affordable. In 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), natural gas prices were lower than they had been in decades. These prices tend to be volatile though, and costs are predicted to maintain an upward momentum throughout 2021. Having multiple generating resources protects our members from these unpredictable changes in the cost of fuels.
One of the biggest benefits to natural gas is that it’s a relatively “clean” fuel, meaning it can be burned without releasing much carbon into the surrounding atmosphere. In fact, according to the EIA, natural gas emits as much as 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal when burned for power generation.
Today, more than three-quarters of the energy Baldwin EMC’s members consume comes from natural gas. While PowerSouth and electricity suppliers across the nation are working to incorporate more renewable energy into their generation portfolios, keeping energy both reliable and cost-effective means fossil fuels will still be needed.
“Electricity from fossil fuels has been cheap and has been the primary driver of our economy,” says Gary Smith, PowerSouth’s chief executive officer. “Cheap fossil-fuel generated electricity has also allowed all Americans to greatly improve their quality of life and to enjoy the benefits of a modern society.”
By the year 2026, almost 20 percent of PowerSouth’s power generation will come from emission-free sources, such as nuclear energy and renewables, and dependence on coal is predicted to dwindle to less than seven percent in the same timeframe.
Natural gas is still expected to be the key player, though, unseating coal as the dominant power supply resource of the future.