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Southern Co’s largest utility unit, Georgia Power, is investigating the cause of Thursday’s explosion at its 3,166-megawatt Plant Bowen coal-fired station located in Bartow County, GA, that ended up shutting down all four units at the plant.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also started an investigation but did not release any details.

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The blast occurred late Thursday afternoon as workers were shutting down Unit 2 for planned maintenance. It occurred in the “power house,” a rectangular building that holds the generators and turbines used to produce electricity, said Georgia Power spokesman Brian Green. The area where they contain the coal did not have a problem, he said.

Three people were treated for minor injuries. OSHA as well as federal and state environmental authorities went to the site Thursday night.

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It’s too early to tell how long the plant will remain shut down or how much it will cost to fix the damage, Green said.

As a regulated monopoly, Georgia Power can ask state utility regulators for permission to recoup the costs of the shutdown from consumers, but getting to that point will take a while. The utility has to determine whether its workers or subcontractors ended up involved and whether they were liable. Whether insurance covers the incident also comes into play.

Then Georgia Power has to decide who bears those costs, the company or consumers. The utility could ask the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to pass costs on to customers, but the agency has to do its own review before that happens. If the PSC determines that Georgia Power was somehow at fault or acted “imprudently,” the utility may not be able to recoup all of the money from customers.

The amount could include capital costs as well as fuel-related costs.

“It’s very early to be discussing these things,” PSC Chairman Chuck Eaton said. “We’re going to take a close look at it regardless.”

OSHA has up to six months to complete an investigation and determine whether the company violated any standards, according to agency spokeswoman Lindsay Williams. The agency will not issue any reports or comment on the investigation before that time.

Plant Bowen is one of the nation’s largest coal plants and routinely ranks near the top of toxic emissions because of its size. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia Environmental Protection Division will not investigate the incident any further after determining that there were no significant releases of air pollution.

The emissions at the plant remained within permitted levels during the explosion and afterward, said Kevin Chambers, a spokesman for the state’s natural resources department.

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