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Fight brews over coal plants

Developers of new coal-fired plants in Iowa say coal was the best choice because it allows them to make electricity at the reasonable and predictable costs their customers want. Soaring prices have made natural gas, the fuel of choice for the last two decades, undesirable. Wind energy is not viewed as an option for the kind of ``always-on'' demand that coal plants serve, because wind speeds are seasonal and unpredictable.

As Iowa seeks to lead the nation in renewable energy, a resurgence of coal-fired power plants raises economic and ideological questions for state leaders and regulators.

Two coal-fired generating stations being proposed will soon be up for review by the Iowa Utilities Board. They would join a new coal-fired MidAmerican Energy generating unit in Council Bluffs that began operating June 1.

Such plants employ more efficient combustion technology that emits about 10 percent less carbon dioxide for the equivalent amount of power than previous generations. Yet a typical coal-fired plant generates as much carbon dioxide than putting thousands more automobiles on the road, making them a big contributor to the emissions blamed for climate change.

About 150 new coal-fired power plants were planned in the United States as of May 1.

``We are in the early stages of an incredibly intense coal rush to get as many plants built as possible,'' said Henry Henderson, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Midwest Program, which plans to fight some of the Midwest plants in court.

Odds that the federal government will regulate carbon emissions from coal plants went up in... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

As Iowa seeks to lead the nation in renewable energy, a resurgence of coal-fired power plants raises economic and ideological questions for state leaders and regulators.

Two coal-fired generating stations being proposed will soon be up for review by the Iowa Utilities Board. They would join a new coal-fired MidAmerican Energy generating unit in Council Bluffs that began operating June 1.

Such plants employ more efficient combustion technology that emits about 10 percent less carbon dioxide for the equivalent amount of power than previous generations. Yet a typical coal-fired plant generates as much carbon dioxide than putting thousands more automobiles on the road, making them a big contributor to the emissions blamed for climate change.

About 150 new coal-fired power plants were planned in the United States as of May 1.

``We are in the early stages of an incredibly intense coal rush to get as many plants built as possible,'' said Henry Henderson, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Midwest Program, which plans to fight some of the Midwest plants in court.

Odds that the federal government will regulate carbon emissions from coal plants went up in April, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration's contention that the EPA lacks authority to regulate carbon dioxide from auto emissions, Henderson said.

Developers of new coal-fired plants in Iowa say coal was the best choice because it allows them to make electricity at the reasonable and predictable costs their customers want.

Soaring prices have made natural gas, the fuel of choice for the last two decades, undesirable. Wind energy is not viewed as an option for the kind of ``always-on'' demand that coal plants serve, because wind speeds are seasonal and unpredictable.

LS Power-led Elk Run Energy Associates is expected to seek state permission soon to build the Elk Run Energy Station on farmland it wants the city of Waterloo to annex. The 750-megawatt generating station would be the state's first ``merchant'' power plant, selling electricity to utilities under long-term contracts rather than selling it to households and businesses.

Alliant Energy has filed a siting application with the Iowa Utilities Board to build a 630-megawatt coal-fired generating unit at its Sutherland Generating Station in Marshalltown.

MidAmerican Energy began operating the 790-megawatt Walter Scott Jr. Energy Center Unit 4 near Council Bluffs on June 1.

A megawatt equals one million watts, roughly enough to power 1,000 homes.

Opponents say construction of the coal-fired plants will undo much of what Iowa's renewable energy boom has done to reduce regulated air emissions and slow climate change.

``I think there's a big rush to get these coal plants permitted and started before the (presidential) administration changes, because we're going to see carbon regulation,'' said Don Shatzer, a retired Deere & Co. worker and vice president of Community Energy Solutions, a local group opposing Elk Run Energy Station.

If the federal government imposes carbon taxes, Shatzer expects the coal plant owners to be able to pass those taxes along directly to consumers.

A regulatory hearing earlier this month in Des Moines over Alliant's plans to sell its transmission system to ITC Holdings was a possible preview of the upcoming regulatory fight over the coal-fired plants.

Alliant plans to use much of the roughly $750 million it receives for its transmission system to build the new generating station.

A coalition of environmental groups challenged Alliant's assertion that a new coal plant is a wise use of funds from the sale, given the uncertainty of carbon regulation, according to attorney Carrie La Seur of the Mount Vernon-based environmental law firm, Plains Justice.

That new ethanol plants are creating much of the power demand that Alliant's new Marshalltown plant is designed to serve will be part of the coalition's case. Building new coal-fired generating stations to keep ethanol plants humming brings into question the clean air benefits of ethanol, La Seur says.

Renewable fuels plants account for 80 megawatts of Alliant's electrical demand, an amount expected to double when the number of plants currently planned or under construction are complete by the end of 2009.

Lately, some utilities are rethinking their plans to use more coal. Plans for about two dozen coal-burning plants have been canceled since early 2006, according to the National Energy Technology Laboratory, part of the U.S. Department of Energy.

In Iowa, it appears less likely legislators and regulators will face strong public pressure to curb coal use.

Shatzer says Community Energy Solutions has received strong support from educated professionals and ``wellness people'' who understand the health risks of bringing a coal-burning plant into the community. The cause is also a popular one in Iowa City, according to officials at the New Pioneer Cooperative, which recently held a benefit dance to oppose Elk Run.



Source: http://www.gazetteonline.co...

AUG 16 2007
https://www.windaction.org/posts/10632-fight-brews-over-coal-plants
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