The Senate scrapped the leading bill to curb carbon emissions following opposition from Republicans and coal-state Democrats

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sat, 10/16/2010 - 08:11.

I've learned first-hand how people become environmentalists. They realize they are being polluted, get mad as hell, and do something about it... NIMBY... Not In My Back Yard!

Learning the harm of lead poisoning in my back yard made me an environmentalist against lead poisoning in my community and worldwide.

Learning the harm of pollution from the Arcelor/Mittal Cleveland Works steel mills in my back yard made me an environmentalist against steel production pollution in my community and worldwide.

Learning the harm of pollution from Medical Center Company coal burning in my back yard made me an environmentalist against coal burning in my community and worldwide.

Which has me exploring how big is my back yard... how big is my community?

House in Little Italy Ohio, owned by Case, overshadowed by stacks from coal plant

In Northeast Ohio, a major pollution point source is never far away. But, how far away are there pollution point sources polluting the back yards of others  that I must be an environmentalist against if I really want to clean up my back yard?

The answer for Northeast Ohio is farther than Hope will take you.

Citizens must stop hoping solutions to our environmental problems will come from current American pro-coal government leadership - recognize that most current political leaders in America (Democratic and Republican... including our current President and the Senators and Governor of Ohio) have sold-out to coal. While funding (for $ billions) and claiming to be building new "Clean Coal" power plants (like MCCO had pipe-dreamed to build in Cleveland), American leadership is instead allowing more dirty coal power plant capacity to be built across the nation, as the world recognizes we must burn less coal.

An article in the September 13, 2010, Wall Street Journal - Turning Away From Coal - points out "Power companies are increasingly switching to natural gas to fuel their electricity plants. While the trend started in the late 1990s, the momentum is accelerating and comes at the expense of coal. Some utilities are closing coal-fired plants; others are converting them to run on gas." Further, "The switch is occurring globally and is getting a push from regulators who want to limit emissions that contribute to climate change, haze and health problems such as respiratory illness."

US EPA AirNow AQI Index - poor air quality day for much of America

An important example of such shameful denial of real-world public health, science and economics by out-of-touch, out-of-bounds politicians is the disastrous construction right now of a $4.4 billion dirty coal power plant in the home-state of our President, Barack Obama,  which shall impoverish and harm millions of citizens, including all people of Northeast Ohio, for decades... just to benefit St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, the world's largest private-sector coal company, and the politicians they have corrupted - from the Chicago Tribune:

Sold on a promise of cheap, clean electricity, dozens of communities in Illinois and eight other Midwest states instead are facing more expensive utility bills after bankrolling a new coal-fired power plant that will be one of the nation's largest sources of climate-change pollution.

As the Prairie State Energy Campus rises out of a Downstate field, its price tag already has more than doubled to $4.4 billion — costs that will largely be borne by municipalities including the suburbs of Naperville, Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles and Winnetka.

The communities are locked into 28-year contracts that will require higher electricity rates to cover the construction overruns, documents and interviews show. Municipal officials told the Tribune they expect costs to soar even higher before the plant begins operating next year.

Each year, it will churn more than 13 million tons of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, an amount equivalent to adding 2 million cars to the nation's highways. Most U.S. power plants emitting that much climate-change pollution date to the 1960s and '70s.

The pollution also could make the plant more expensive to operate. Climate and energy legislation pending in Congress would slap a price on greenhouse-gas emissions, requiring Prairie State's owners to spend hundreds of millions more a year. Local officials didn't account for those costs when buying into the plant.

Coal power plants proposed in United States

In fact, the August 16, 2010 Huffington Post reported "Coal Power Industry: Biggest US Expansion In 2 Decades, Emissions Equivalent To Putting 22 Million Cars On The Road", showing since Obama became President there have not been set in place limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new coal plants and "Utilities across the country are building dozens of old-style coal plants that will cement the industry's standing as the largest industrial source of climate-changing gases for years to come."

An Associated Press examination of U.S. Department of Energy records and information provided by utilities and trade groups shows that more than 30 traditional coal plants have been built since 2008 or are under construction.

The construction wave stretches from Arizona to Illinois and South Carolina to Washington, and comes despite growing public wariness over the high environmental and social costs of fossil fuels, demonstrated by tragic mine disasters in West Virginia, the Gulf oil spill and wars in the Middle East.

The expansion, the industry's largest in two decades, represents an acknowledgment that highly touted "clean coal" technology is still a long ways from becoming a reality and underscores a renewed confidence among utilities that proposals to regulate carbon emissions will fail. The Senate last month scrapped the leading bill to curb carbon emissions following opposition from Republicans and coal-state Democrats.

"Building a coal-fired power plant today is betting that we are not going to put a serious financial cost on emitting carbon dioxide," said Severin Borenstein, director of the Energy Institute at the University of California-Berkeley. "That may be true, but unless most of the scientists are way off the mark, that's pretty bad public policy."

Hoping for a technological solution, the Obama administration devoted $3.4 billion in stimulus spending to foster "clean-coal" plants that can capture and store greenhouse gases. Yet new investments in traditional coal plants total at least 10 times that amount – more than $35 billion.

$3.4 Billion wasted on hopeless science... $35 billion wasted against real science... including over $2.1 billion for "Hope"!?

The disastrous construction of a $2.1 billion+ dirty coal power plant in the birth-town of our former-President, Bill Clinton, shall harm millions of citizens of Arkansas and trans-border down-wind states... including the people of Ohio... for decades... just to benefit Columbus-based AEP, one of the world's largest investor-owned utilities and one of the world's worst polluters.

In Hope, Arkansas, Columbus-Ohio-based American Electric Power (AEP - through their SWEPCO operating company) is forcing upon citizens of the beautiful Texarcana region (bordering Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma) a "NEW" $2.1-BILLION-and-Rising DIRTY COAL POWERPLANT the citizens of Arkansas do not want, need or intend to use. This project is so ill-conceived and over-cost, Arkansas courts and regulators will not approve service by the new plant to Arkansas rate-payers, despite the fact it will pollute area residents.

Jet Stream bringing cross-boundary pollution to Ohio

AEP's Turk Coal Hope Burner is situated at the gateway for much of the cross-state air flow traveling toward Ohio - our air picks up tons of pollution from coal plant after coal plant, reaching our region too unhealthy to safely breathe. Read the description of politics of this coal plant in Arkansas and realize this mess is the fault of incompetent, evil leadership of Ohio mega-utlity AEP -major supporters of our polluted pro-coal Ohio Governor Strickland...

LITTLE ROCK — The state Supreme Court today declined to reconsider its ruling that voided a utility company’s permit for a coal-fired power plant in southwestern Arkansas, and the company responded with an announcement that it no longer needs the permit.

Without comment, the court denied petitions by Shreveport, La.-based Southwestern Electric Power Co. and the state Public Service Commission for a rehearing in a lawsuit filed by landowners who oppose SWEPCO’s proposed John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant in Hempstead County.

The state’s highest court ruled unanimously in May that the PSC did not follow proper procedures when it granted the permit. The commission held separate hearings on the proposal for the plant and on SWEPCO’s claim that it needs additional power generation, but the court said those matters should have been considered in a single hearing.

Shortly after the rulings were handed down, SWEPCO filed a notice with the PSC stating the company will proceed with construction of the plant without a permit from the PSC.

The company said it has decided not to use the plant to serve Arkansas customers and not to recover costs of the plant from Arkansas ratepayers, so the project will not be subject to regulation by the PSC.

Regulators in Louisiana and Texas, where many of SWEPCO’s customers live, have already given SWEPCO approval to recover costs of the plant from ratepayers in those states.

“This decision means we will not be able to use electricity supplied by the Turk plant to serve SWEPCO’s retail customers in Arkansas, as was originally planned in this important project,” Michael G. Morris, CEO of SWEPCO parent company AEP, said in a news release.

“We will continue construction in order to fulfill our obligations in Louisiana and Texas in the most cost-effective manner,” Morris said. “We will secure other markets for the 88 megawatts of Turk Plant capacity that would have served our Arkansas retail customers.”

Rick Addison, attorney for the Hempstead County Hunting Club and other landowners who oppose the plant, said today the landowners will fight any attempt by SWEPCO to continue building the plant.

Addison said the position SWEPCO is taking is “not a legitimate position.” "Simply put, you’re not entitled to play the game and lose it and then pick up your marbles and say, ‘I’m not playing that game anymore,’” he said.

The Sierra Club and Audubon Arkansas, which are parties in lawsuits challenging SWEPCO’s air permit for the plant and seeking to protect local wetlands, criticized SWEPCO for its action today.

“The utility’s tactic now is to bypass regulations by wandering into uncharted and uncertain legal territory,” said Lev Guter, a field organizer with the Sierra Club. “What is certain, however, is that we will continue our legal challenges every step of the way. SWEPCO is jeopardizing Arkansans’ public health, and we will not stand for that.”

Ellen Fennell, interim director of Audubon Arkansas, said SWEPCO’s action affirms that there is no need in Arkansas for the Turk plant.

“Arkansas should not become the dumping ground for power plants to serve Texas and Louisiana. SWEPCO, however, thinks otherwise,” she said.

Ohio should not be the dumping ground for pollution from any of these new dirty power plants - we have our own plants to fight, and are doing poorly with that.

Coal power plants proposed for Northeast Ohio region

The pollution fighters in Arkansas seem to be doing poorly in their fight as well. Reuters reports, in AEP says ruling won't stop Arkansas coal progress, despite all this uncertainty and public and local and state government resistance, the plant is now 28% completed... "About $1 billion has been spent on the Turk project, including $786 million by SWEPCO, the company said."

28% for $1 billion indicates the plant will cost over $3 billion at completion... probably significantly more... all to kill Americans unnecessarily.

National mortality resulting from coal burning power plants in America
National mortality resulting from coal burning power plants in America

As a result of all this coal burning pollution, the air in Northeast Ohio is some of the most unhealthy in America, and the people of Northeast Ohio suffer from unhealthy consequences and significantly increased mortality as a result.

Norm Roulet, Citizen, East Cleveland, testifying at the August 10, 2010 EPA License Renewal Hearing
AGAINST the EPA renewing the permit for MCCO to continue burning coal

As I have become involved fighting the burning of coal at the Medical Center Company, in my neighborhood of Cleveland, and fighting pollution that harms citizens in my region in general, I have become more aware and informed about the harm caused to citizens by pollution that travels trans-border, from region to region, and I have been physically exploring and documenting the sources of the pollution causing harm here in Northeast Ohio, from as far away as Texas and Colorado. The fact is coal burned way out West in the plains east of Denver and down South in Hope, Arkansas, will contribute to cumulative pollution harm in Cleveland, just as pollution in Northeast Ohio harms people in Toronto.

Transboundary ari pollution from Northeast Ohio harms Canadians

Out West, I've seen where the energy profile of America is evolving, but not transforming quickly or decisively enough, and the results this year included an excessively hot and dry Summer in much of the nation, reducing the plains of Nebraska, Iowa and Colorado to a dustbowl made green only through industrial agriculture and irrigation, to grow corn and grain that appears to feed 1,000,000s of cows there... probably destined for McDonalds' happy meals.

Towering above the cattle, on these parched plains, are 100s-if-not-1,000s of wind turbines. Just a short distance away are dirty coal burning facilities... the technologies may work together in one ecosystem, if the leadership so desires... energy regulators and utility industry leaders have alternatives in how they design the nation's energy generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure, capacity and long term strategies - America's leadership may provide clean energy solutions and save lives, or they may be dirty, corrupt and evil and kill citizens excessively... it is up to them.

Wind turbines in Iowa - to get a sense of scale, the black dots are huge cows grazing beneath the tower

To solve the pollution crisis in Northeast Ohio, we must solve problems with Hope in Arkansas, Ohio, America, and world-wide.

To solve problems with Hope in Arkansas, Ohio, America, and world-wide, we must look for best practices, leadership and support from government and citizens in places that are less hopeless than Ohio.

Xcel Energy's Valmont Station as seen from Legion Park. Photo by Mara Auster, Daily Camera.

Where I have found hope for Ohio is in Colorado, where citizens have organized against the Minneapolis-based utility that excessively-pollutes their community with coal burning - citizens of Colorado have organized, are FIGHTING FOR THEIR PUBLIC HEALTH, and are stopping Minnesota coal burning pollution in Boulder and Denver, protecting Ohioans from millions of tons of pollution reaching here each year... whether we appreciate that or not.

As for how such a fight is fought and won, we best look to Colorado and learn their best practices...

I strongly recommend you read the following two articles about the battle of Boulder - citizens against coal-killer Xcel - where in a year people stopped the killing of 1,000,000s of innocent people from Colorado to Ohio by stopping burning of dirty coal in THEIR BACK YARD - and realize these battles are ahead for Ohio citizens, whether you are ready for our Third World War or not.

Are your leaders ready for war - is President Obama?

He seems to love war.

We shall see if he knows what side is best for Americans, or if he is an enemy of the people, between now and 2012!

Boulderites hit coal plant where it hurts: in the air permit

August 10, 2009 · Posted by Laura Snider in Energy 

BOULDER, Colo. — In January 1923, when Western Light and Power company announced plans to spend $4 million to build a coal-burning power plant on the shores of what was then Weisenhorn Lake east of Boulder, locals were delighted.

The Daily Camera called the decision to construct the Valmont power plant “the greatest thing for Boulder that has happened in years,” as it would bring good jobs and ensure that the town would not be overlooked as Colorado continued to grow.

Today the brick walls of the 85-year-old building are covered with creeping ivy, tall trees quietly line the power station’s drive — and Boulder residents are decidedly less delighted about having a coal plant in their back yard.

Four of the plant’s five coal-fired generators were retired in the mid-1980s, but one boiler stays lit, eating through a trainload of coal a week. When running full tilt, it delivers 186 megawatts of electricity to the grid — enough to power about 186,000 Colorado homes, according to the Governor’s Energy Office.

Lately, opposition to Valmont’s surviving coal-powered boiler, now owned by Xcel Energy, has heated up, stoked by concerns over global warming, toxic air pollutants and Boulder’s ability to meet its greenhouse gas-reduction goals.

“I feel as though the whole movement to go beyond coal has taken a giant leap forward in the last six months,” said Micah Parkin, who leads Boulder’s Beyond Coal Coalition, which is helping lead the fight to shut down Valmont. “Several things are all culminating to shake people up, to make people realize that something has got to be done.”

Even so, Xcel has been steadfast in its decision to keep Valmont running, pointing out that the plant is its most efficient in Colorado– meaning it turns a greater percentage of the energy trapped in coal into energy delivered to the grid than the company’s other coal plants. Valmont also has an excellent record of compliance with environmental regulations, officials say, and Xcel is already planning to retire two of its dirtier Colorado coal plants in the next five years.

But Boulder’s anti-coal activists are not deterred, and their attack on Valmont has taken many forms, including greater pressure on city officials to play hardball in their franchise negotiations with Xcel, demanding more electricity from renewable sources.

Most recently, opponents of Valmont are trying a new tactic, striking the power plant in what may prove to be its Achilles’ heel: its air permit, which is now up for renewal.

What was once a relatively routine process — if a coal plant was meeting its prescribed limits for air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, then the permit was renewed — has become a new battleground for environmentalists, who now see air permits as a chance to battle carbon dioxide without waiting for lawmakers to actually do something, or at the least, as an opportunity to rally public opposition.

“These air permits used to be given out without much comment or fanfare, but the public and organizations like ours have realized that this is an opportunity to draw attention to carbon and other pollutants that are being emitted in such large numbers,” said Roger Singer, regional representative for the Sierra Club. “We are using the opportunity of the air permit renewal to increase public awareness and education about the effects of coal plants. People are showing up in droves to what used to be a largely procedural meeting.”

Packing the permit hearings

The strategy seems to be working in Boulder.

In mid-July, hundreds of locals packed the third floor of the county courthouse, some waiting hours for the chance to deliver their three-minute opinions on Valmont before the state’s Air Quality Control Commission, which is now deliberating whether to renew the power plant’s Title V air permit.

During the four-hour meeting — which was only held at the request of several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, and which was originally scheduled by the state for a Friday night — just a single person spoke favorably about the plant.

The others gave the commissioners an earful. Valmont belches toxins, inflames asthma and creates a haze of ozone, they said. Others proclaimed that the plant’scarbon dioxide emissions, which top 1 million tons a year, are contributing to sea-level rise, droughts, hurricanes and a host of other devastating global warming consequences.

Valmont doesn’t belong in eco-friendly Boulder, where citizens voted to tax themselves on their own carbon emissions, the public continued. It’s a relic of the old energy economy.

But while these comments may well be a sign of dwindling local support for Valmont — and the increased public awareness that the Sierra Club was looking for — they’re not the comments most likely to cause immediate headaches for Xcel Energy.

It’s this one: “In proposing to issue the Title V Permit, it appears that the division has failed to assess whether carbon dioxide is subject to regulation in accordance with Prevention of Significant Deterioration requirements.”

Written by Jeremy Nichols of the local activist group WildEarth Guardians, the statement isn’t sexy — or even all that comprehensible to most people — but it suggests the possibility of a new reality that’s feared by coal supporters and celebrated by environmentalists.

In light of recent decisions by both federal and state courts and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — and depending how one reads existing Colorado law — Nichols argues that carbon dioxide must now be regulated under the existing Clean Air Act.

Master of the mundane

Nichols is only 29, but he’s already a veteran of bringing big polluters in Boulder County to task. He’s soft-spoken at public meetings and not particularly prone to rhetoric.

Instead his weapon in the battle for clean air is an unflappable dedication to even the most mundane detail and the willingness to comb through hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of permit filings, deciphering the legalese to find the weak points — places where the state or the federal government might have failed to enforce some section of some code buried somewhere.

In Colorado, air permits that ensure big emitters, like Valmont, are in compliance with the federal Clean Air Act, are issued by the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment. But since the state is enforcing a federal law, the EPA must approve any state-issued air permit.

And, if the EPA approves a state’s permit, any citizen may then appeal that ruling to the EPA administrator. This is where Nichols shines.

In May, Nichols got word that the EPA had sided with him — at least in part — in a lawsuit he filed in 2008 appealing an air permit given to the Cemex cement plant, claiming that the state did not ensure that the Lyons facility had installed the required, up-to-date pollution controls.

In March,, Nichols, in his role as climate and energy director at WildEarth Guardians, filed another appeal, this time to challenge an air permit recently issued for Xcel’s coal-fired plant in Hayden, west of Steamboat Springs. The appeal takes issue with how Xcel has monitored particulate pollution at the plant, but it also makes the case that Xcel must show how it plans to control carbon at the plant in order to comply with the Clean Air Act.

If the Air Quality Control Commission approves Valmont’s air permit — as many activists expect it will — Nichols will likely file a similar appeal. As with Hayden, Nichols has some concerns about how particulates are monitored at Valmont, but he also promises to bring up the carbon question again.

“We’re making progress,” he said. “We’re slowly but surely laying the groundwork for a very comprehensive interpretation for the Clean Air Act.”

Getting good marks

Mark Fox, manager of Xcel’s Valmont Station, runs a tight ship. He has a reverence for the importance of his job, the task of providing reliable power to the people. He can recall, without pausing, the seemingly endless string of numbers that goes along with that — boiler temperatures, bag house efficiencies, the coal supply’s sulfur content, emission standards, tons of lime for the scrubbers, percentage of necessary spinning reserves.

His power plant is neat and orderly, and in the little room where emissions are tracked, a record of the plant’s compliance is found by the computer, printed in almost unnaturally neat handwriting.

In 2007, the one still-working smokestack at Valmont emitted 143 tons of particulates, 2,374 tons of nitrogen oxides, 788 tons of sulfur dioxide, 143 tons of carbon monoxide and 17 tons of volatile organic compounds. And while Valmont’s opponents offer a frightening list of ways these pollutants combine to negatively affect the health of people living downwind, the reality is that those emissions do not come close to exceeding the limits placed on Valmont by the state.

Valmont’s actual particulate emissions, for example, make up only 4 percent of what the plant is allowed to emit, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Fox has made sure, in other words, that the plant exceeds the rules set by the state. So for Nichols and his activistcolleagues, the issue is less about whether Xcel is following the rules and more about whether the rules should be changed.

“With Valmont, we’re not talking about a chronic clean air violator,” Nichols said. “What we’re talking about are more fundamental questions: Are they going to take seriously their responsibility to keep their carbon dioxide emissions in check?”

The opportunity of uncertainty

Carbon dioxide is not regulated under the Clean Air Act, but in the last few years, the door to capping greenhouse gases under that law has been cracked open.

First, in April 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case Massachusetts vs. EPA that “greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of air pollutant.” Then, last November, EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board — in response to a request to build a small coal plant in eastern Utah — ruled that the EPA must consider carbon dioxide when issuing air permits.

The board, however, did not say carbon dioxide must be regulated, just that the EPA must evaluate whether it should be.

In response, the outgoing administrator of the EPA, Bush administration-appointee Stephen Johnson, issued a memo in December that directed the agency not to regulate carbon dioxide, only to monitor it.

But in February, the new EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, issued her own memo saying that the EPA would reconsider Johnson’s stance.

In the interim, while states wait for a definitive carbon policy from the EPA, and the agency, apparently, waits for Johnson’s memo to be reviewed, environmental groups have seized the uncertainty as opportunity, working to cast doubt on the validity of any air permit that doesn’t address greenhouse gasses. And they’re making progress.

In February, for example, the EPA’s Environmental Board of Review responded to an appeal challenging the permit for a new coal plant at Northern Michigan University by sending the permit back to the state, saying that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality must address whether carbon dioxide was a regulated pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

In June, the university cancelled its plans for the 10-megawatt plant.

And last summer, after environmental groups sued, Fulton County Superior Court in Georgia became the first state court to revoke an air permit for a coal plant because the judge argued that carbon dioxide must be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

But reflecting general doubt about the scope of the Clean Air Act, this summer, the Georgia Appeals Court overturned the lower court’s decision.

In April, the EPA, also seemingly uncertain about the purview of the Clean Air Act, voluntarily remanded the air permit it issued just last summer for the widely criticized Desert Rock coal plant proposed in northern New Mexico, saying it needed to consider whether the plant should have to use best-available technologies for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Asking for a visionary move

Xcel is not unaware that coal plant projects across the country have become mired in air-permit challenges.

Almost two years ago, when Xcel filed its Colorado Resource Plan with the state, the company included an attachment listing 16 coal plants — from Arizona to Kentucky — with air permit issues. Many of the projects have since been cancelled.

And in anticipation of some kind of carbon regulation — be it a tax or emission limits — Xcel has padded the costs used for future resource plans, estimating that new carbon constraints will cost the company in the neighborhood of $40 per ton of carbon dioxide.

Gary Magno, who works on environmental issues for Xcel, said that he doesn’t believe that the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission has the power to deny Valmont its air permit based on concerns over carbon. But he’s quick to add that Xcel will comply with any new rules for carbon dioxide when they’re made, as they do now for all environmental regulations.

Anti-coal activists in Boulder disagree about the air commission’s powers, saying that they can — and should — take a visionary stand that allows Colorado to lead the way into a new energy future.

And, they say, even if the commission cannot bring itself to interpret what should or should not be regulated under the Clean Air Act independently of the EPA, they need only reread Colorado’s own air quality rules to find the authority to deny the permit based on greenhouse gases.

The state’s laws define air pollutants as “any fume, smoke, particulate matter, vapor, gas or any combination thereof that is emitted into or otherwise enters the atmosphere,” which would seem to include the 1.3 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted by Valmont each year, environmentalists say.

But even if the commission approves the permit — and if the appeals that are almost certain to follow are unsuccessful — Boulder environmentalists say they’re hardly ready to give up the fight.

“It’s important for the citizens to do what they’re doing, to help politicians know they have the support of the people to stand up against coal,” said tireless Xcel watchdog Leslie Glustrom, founder of Boulder’s Clean Energy Action group. “We’re going to keep building the citizen movement and we’re going to demand that Colorado starts to build the energy infrastructure for this century; one that we believe is not only cleaner, but more reliable.”

Leading, one year later, to:

xcel's plan to meet goals of clean air-clean jobs act

Xcel's plan to convert coal-burning plants draws heated testimony

By Steve Raabe - The Denver Post - Posted: 09/18/2010 01:00:00 AM MDT

A controversial plan for converting coal-burning power plants to natural gas produced thousands of pages of testimony Friday from supporters and opponents.

Testimony filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission ran the gamut from extolling the plan's environmental benefits to warning of significant economic consequences for businesses and consumers.

Under the plan, Xcel Energy would spend $1.3 billion to phase out coal-fired generators in Denver and Boulder and retool plants to run on cleaner natural gas.

Other power stations near Brush and Hayden would still burn coal but would be upgraded to reduce emissions.

The proposal stems from the Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act passed this year by the Colorado legislature and signed by Gov. Bill Ritter. The act calls for power plants to emit 75 percent less nitrogen-oxide compounds by 2017, as well as reductions in sulfur dioxide, mercury and other emissions.

Xcel has said the plan would add 1 percent annually to customers' electric bills.

But the cost could be far higher, according to testimony submitted by energy economist Roger Bezdek on behalf of the Colorado Mining Association.

Xcel's estimates on customer rate impact are "not reliable," Bezdek said in written testimony.

"Natural-gas prices have been one of the major causes of electricity rate increases over the past decade," he said. "(Xcel's) own strategist forecasts indicate that there will be continued, substantial increases in natural-gas prices — especially compared to the strategist forecast of coal prices."

Adopting the plan could produce Colorado job losses of 30,000 to 120,000, Bezdek said, from coal mining and a ripple effect on other industries. The testimony did not specify how it arrived at that total.

Colorado's natural-gas industry largely supports the plan. Some gas producers testified that the timetable for conversion of coal to natural gas should be accelerated.

The city of Boulder testified in favor of the proposal. Boulder is "particularly encouraged by the emissions reductions estimated by (Xcel), the potential health and environmental benefits, and the comprehensive approach that the company is taking to address multiple reasonably foreseeable environmental regulations."

The city of Denver also testified in favor of the plan.

Xcel Energy said in a statement that it is "gratified with some of the initial support we've seen. We believe our plan is in the best interest of Colorado and our customers."

A public hearing will be held Thursday at the offices of the Public Utilities Commission. The PUC then will hear testimony from intervening parties from Oct. 21 through Nov. 3. A final decision is due by Dec. 15.

Steve Raabe: 303-954-1948 or sraabe [at] denverpost [dot] com

Basics of Xcel Energy's proposal

• Xcel Energy would spend $1.3 billion over 12 years to convert Denver-area power plants from coal to natural gas to meet a state mandate to reduce pollution throughout the Front Range. Additional plants would get upgraded emissions controls.

• Xcel estimates the plan would add an average of 1 percent a year to electric bills. Critics say it could add more.

• Supporters of the proposal include Xcel, environmental groups and natural-gas producers. Opponents include coal-mining interests and independent power generators.

• The Colorado Public Utilities Commission will rule on the plan by Dec. 15.

Read more: Xcel's plan to convert coal-burning plants draws heated testimony - The Denver Post


The city of Boulder testified in favor of the proposal. Boulder is "particularly encouraged by the emissions reductions estimated by (Xcel), the potential health and environmental benefits, and the comprehensive approach that the company is taking to address multiple reasonably foreseeable environmental regulations."

The city of Denver also testified in favor of the plan.

At the recent EPA hearing challenging the permit for MCCO to continue burning dirty coal in Cleveland, Ohio, few citizens bothered to attend the hearing to testify against coal burning here, and neither the city of Cleveland nor East Cleveland testified against the killing of their citizens by pollution. In fact, over the past several years, the leadership of the cities of Cleveland and East Cleveland and the state of Ohio have appeared to be completely corrupted by coal interests operating MCCO, having sold out their citizens completely.

Ohio leadership is completely corrupted by coal.

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Coal to Gas conversion will cost us

As a "Wallet-tarian," My concern w/ converting 1,000's of MW from coal fired generation to PNG is the impact on the PNG supply.  When the supply drops off the PNG prices will skyrocket.  We, as NEO inhabitants, will get hit hard in the wallet through our heating bills.  Remember 2004&2005?  Gas went from 4-6$/MCF to 10-16$/MCF.  The big player in the price jump was the utilities throughout the country installed and operated gas fired turbines that sucked up a lot of the summer PNG supply.  The prices are on a decline since utilites do not run the expensive gas generation in a down economy.

 The wind turbines are an amazing site.  I spent a lot of time in South Dakota fields beneath those engineering marvels.

The Power plant photo on the prarie looks like the Sutherland plant in Nebraska.  Been by that a few times while living in Wyoming. 

 PNG Background. 

Ohio Price of Natural Gas Delivered to Residential Consumers (Dollars per Thousand Cubic Feet)
Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
  1989 5.33 5.33 5.25 5.42 5.31 6.26 6.55 6.54 6.28 5.29 5.21 4.90
  1990 5.09 5.09 5.00 5.31 5.24 5.97 6.52 6.56 6.16 5.43 5.27 5.23
  1991 5.12 5.16 5.05 5.28 5.82 6.60 6.87 6.75 6.41 5.28 5.06 5.01
  1992 4.96 4.66 4.80 4.83 5.27 5.92 6.27 6.98 6.51 5.76 5.52 5.38
  1993 5.36 5.46 5.34 5.52 6.00 6.53 7.43 7.83 7.53 6.22 5.90 5.52
  1994 5.58 5.43 5.65 5.78 6.28 6.33 7.72 7.84 7.39 6.60 5.95 5.89
  1995 5.68 5.08 5.24 5.39 5.70 6.98 7.41 7.64 7.15 6.10 5.01 4.97
  1996 4.94 5.40 5.35 5.39 6.34 7.07 8.10 8.98 8.41 7.29 6.56 6.29
  1997 6.72 6.83 6.51 6.60 6.74 7.42 8.71 8.46 8.29 7.40 6.31 6.20
  1998 6.25 5.75 5.97 6.22 6.58 7.37 8.25 9.89 9.07 7.82 6.13 6.08
  1999 5.89 5.71 5.65 5.85 6.86 7.92 8.45 8.79 8.07 6.79 6.60 6.39
  2000 6.28 6.19 6.41 6.51 7.42 8.86 9.90 10.88 10.57 9.38 9.40 9.41
  2001 9.05 10.70 10.56 10.57 11.56 12.00 13.10 9.89 10.28 8.97 7.30 7.12
  2002 7.37 7.31 6.85 7.06 7.25 8.17 9.09 10.76 10.56 8.63 7.92 7.69
  2003 7.80 8.46 8.74 9.88 10.48 12.03 12.30 12.03 12.00 10.13 9.69 9.47
  2004 9.57 9.55 9.66 10.02 11.10 12.67 12.23 13.75 13.24 11.66 11.37 11.36
  2005 11.49 10.95 11.58 12.59 12.84 13.98 15.33 15.93 16.90 16.78 15.04 15.02
  2006 15.29 14.99 14.09 14.17 15.17 15.90 16.71 16.47 16.87 13.25 12.43 13.52
  2007 12.96 12.70 13.29 12.99 15.29 16.50 16.86 16.49 16.09 14.69 13.57 13.27
  2008 13.05 13.60 13.97 15.54 16.51 20.06 21.53 20.25 18.02 15.92 14.68 13.80
  2009 12.81 12.99 13.03 12.54 15.05 18.24 18.81 18.19 17.07 11.90 11.43 NA
  2010 9.47 9.59 10.20 13.11 16.04 NA NA          

Astounding Media BLACK-out on Circle Coal Plant

Norm--it astounds me that the Case student paper The Observer, and now this foundation sponsored publication will make NO mention of the MCCO coal plant and continued permit issues in Greater University Circle.

I don't even know if it is worth the effort to post comments at NV...I give this "paper" a year...

Meanwhile, the Clinic blatantly thumbs its nose at East Cleveland residents by closing the Huron Hospital Trauma unit...

Clinic President and CEO, Delos Cosgrove was not expected to attend Wednesday's meeting. He has rescheduled his appearance before the Safety Committee to Friday, October 22, at 10:00am.