Friday, March 10, 2006

Lawmakers pursue energy regulations

Sempra's proposed power plant would be affected by new bills

Express Staff Writer

With the end of this year's legislative session approaching, state lawmakers are working new angles to enact power plant regulation bills before they return to their districts.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, whose district includes Blaine County, has signed on to three bills introduced by House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley.

The bills were introduced Wednesday in the House Ways and Means Committee.

One, labeled H791, is a new version of a previously proposed two-year moratorium on certain coal-fired power plants.

That proposal drew more than 100 people March 2 to a public hearing with the House Environment, Energy & Technology Committee.

Many of the people who spoke to the committee were opposed to a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant proposed for Jerome County by Sempra Generation. That project would fall under the moratorium.

Following a request by several Magic Valley legislators last week, Sempra officials said they might be amenable to a self-imposed one-year moratorium.

That's not good enough for Jaquet, however.

"It's like the fox guarding the hen house," she said Wednesday.

The new version proposes only a moratorium on the permitting and licensing for construction of certain coal-fired power plants. The previous version called for a report studying numerous areas of impact that a power plant might affect.

Newcomb's other bill calls for such a study. HCR62 proposes a Legislative Council Interim Committee on Energy, Environment & Technology to develop over the summer an integrated state energy plan.

Representatives from the health care field, the agricultural community, industry and others would be members.

An environmental representative could be an ex-officio, non-voting member, Jaquet said.

A state siting committee would be an outcome of the plan, she added.

The other bill is a rewrite of one Newcomb proposed earlier this session.

H792 would require state Legislature approval for transfers of water rights for coal-fired power plants.

Whereas the initial version had no expiration, the modified bill would be in effect only until July 1, 2008, Jaquet said.

Sempra officials say the Jerome County plant would need up to 7,000 acre-feet of water per year to operate.

There is a specific reason Newcomb's bills were introduced in the House Ways & Means Committee, Jaquet said.

"It's basically a print committee for leadership," she said. "It allows bills to be printed at the end of the session when you don't have time (to go through the usual process). It's an administrative tool to have the business of the Legislature expedited."

Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, introduced six power-plant-related bills this session.

He withdrew one, and three are lingering in Senate committees with no public hearings or votes scheduled. Another failed to get printed and died in committee.

The "Good Neighbor Bill," labeled S1276, passed the Senate Feb. 8 but is stalled in a House committee.

That bill would give legal standing to residents of counties adjacent to one in which a thermal power plant of 50 megawatts or greater is proposed.

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