TIM SANSBURY'S INSIDE TALK ON COAL

TIM SANSBURY'S INSIDE TALK ON COAL

COAL INDUSTRY SOURCES interpret the events of a March 13 meeting of the principal investors in the Scherer power plant near Macon, Ga., to mean that long-term coal supply contracts for the giant generating station are headed in the direction of Western mines.

However, the official word from Southern Co., Atlanta, is that no decision has been made.For the past few months the seven co-owners of the Scherer plant, operated by Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power Co., have been on the verge of nailing down a decision on the fueling strategy for the 3,272-megawatt, four- unit generating station.

They arrived at that point after Southern Co. Services Inc., the fuel arm of Southern Co., studied the market for two years to determine if the best buy for the plant is Eastern or Western coal.

Contracts for the station generally are considered the top prize in the coal industry's East vs. West competition for new utility business in the 1990s and beyond.

No final decision was made at the March 13 meeting, said David Mould, a Southern Co. spokesman. The parties are dealing with a complex set of issues and some details still need to be worked out, he said.

Coal sources offered a more detailed account of the meeting.

They said a final decision wasn't made because Oglethorpe Power Corp., Atlanta, one of the seven investors, said it could not vote on the coal strategy, which entails major capital expenditures, without consulting the Rural Electrification Administration.

The other six investors, however, registered support for a plan calling for the annual purchase of about 10 million tons of coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, sources said.

They also endorsed the appropriation of funds for plant adjustments, such as the installation of dust control equipment, that only need to be made for Western coal, sources added.

Western coal shipments could start moving in the first quarter of 1993 under contracts negotiated later this year, sources said.

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NO ANNOUNCEMENT has been made yet, but the Energy Department wants to sponsor a clean coal technology symposium in Eastern Europe later this year.

"It's in the planning stages," said Penny Adams, a department spokeswoman.

The meeting tentatively is set for Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, sometime in June, government sources said. It apparently is intended to showcase U.S. technology and provide information about the economics and environmental benefits of installing advanced equipment.