Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Stennett to introduce power plant siting bill

Express Staff Writer

Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, plans to introduce a bill this week that would give Idaho control over the location and operation of coal-fired power plants.

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.

"I don't think that's the way we ought to be," Stennett said Tuesday. "There ought to be a process, a real stringent plan that we can say to prospective plant builders: 'Here's what you have to do to get there.' I think it's wrong to have 500 train carloads of coal a week brought into Idaho so we can burn it here, and then have the power sent elsewhere, in this case, probably to California."

In April 2004, Sempra Energy announced plans to build a coal-fired power plant between Glenns Ferry and Bliss in southern Idaho. The Fortune 500, San Diego-based company's intention is to build a 750-megawatt plant that uses low-sulfur coal from Wyoming. Recently, however, the site of the plant has shifted and now is being considered in Jerome County, just west of Highway 75 near the town of Jerome.

Ironically, California has refused to let Sempra build a plant there, Stennett said.

Key factors in siting of a coal-fired plant are proximity to transmission lines, railroad access to get the coal in, and lots of water to generate steam. The plant would need 9,500 acre-feet of water per year. Sempra is proposing to have the plant online by 2010, after a four-year, $1 billion construction period involving 1,000 workers. After that, only 100 workers would be employed to run the plant.

As a result of Idaho's lack of siting provisions, county commissioners have the sole authority to approve power plant projects. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality additionally would need to issue an air quality permit. Coal burning plants emit carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and oxides of nitrogen and mercury.

Stennett said one of his major concerns for his constituents is protection of air quality.

"I have designed this bill to involve the public and make it a more transparent process," Stennett said. He is planning on introducing the bill later this week.

Meanwhile, Stennett also is working with the Idaho Conservation League and the Idaho Mining Association over concerns with two proposals for cyanide-based gold mining operations. A Canadian company is looking at building a mine in Atlanta at the top of the Middle Fork of the Boise drainage. The other is being proposed for Boise's Black Creek.

"We're working to develop something that's rational and reasonable," Stennett said.

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