Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Idaho?the smokestack state?

With all of the histrionics over building a YMCA in Ketchum, one might think people were trying to build a coal-fired electricity plant in our backyard.

Given the political climate, the latter may be the most likely scenario.

Sempra Generation, a giant San Diego-based company that develops, operates and acquires power plants, is looking at two potential sites for building a coal-fired plant—one in Elmore County and another in Jerome County.

Art Larsen, a Sempra spokesman, said the company is doing a feasibility study—due out in March—that evaluates a 500-acre power plant site six miles east of Glenns Ferry on the Snake River. Alternatively, Roy Prescott, a rancher and former Jerome County Commissioner, said Sempra has approached him about a plant going on his property just east of Jerome.

The company wants to build a 750-megawatt plant that uses low-sulfur coal from Wyoming and Montana. Key factors in any siting of a coal plant are proximity to transmission lines, railroad access to get the coal in, and water, lots of water. Water generates steam, which turns turbines and creates electricity, and cools the system. The plant would need 9,500 acre-feet of water per year.

The company is looking to have the plant online by 2010, after a four-year, $1 billion construction period involving 1,000 workers.

The Jerome site, Larsen said, is in the "very early feasibility" stage. The Glenns Ferry site is further along in the process, but the community outreach process has not yet begun.

That may be, but it is never too early for nearby communities to reach out to Sempra: Start asking questions, voice opinions and concerns, be heard.

At present the permitting process takes place at the county level, with emissions standards set by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. There are no state regulations pertaining to the siting of power plants in Idaho.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said Sen. Clint Stennet, D-Ketchum, plans to introduce siting legislation this session that will require consideration of the effects on surrounding counties. If and until that happens, approval or denial of a proposal rests at the county commission level.

Jerome may seem a long way from the Wood River Valley, but coal plant emissions—carbon dioxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and mercury—travel with the winds.

Will emissions threaten our air and water? Where will the electricity from such a plant go? Is this wise use of water resources? What are the economic impacts, positive and negative? These are just some of the questions we need to start asking.

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