Friday, March 17, 2006

Power plant bills pick up steam

Express Staff Writer

Two bills aimed at buying time for Idaho to possibly increase state controls over siting of power plants passed House committees this week, and will move to the floor for debate.

Mounting opposition to Sempra Generation's 600-megawatt project planned for Jerome County has led to a flurry of legislation to stop or slow the approval process.

House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, introduced the bills. One, H791, would impose a two-year moratorium on certain coal-fired power plants. It is co-sponsored by Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, and Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum.

Another, House Concurrent Resolution 62, calls for the Legislative Council Interim Committee on Energy, Environment and Technology to develop a state energy plan. It is co-sponsored by Jaquet.

The moratorium bill states a need to slow down the process and study power plants' impacts on the state.

"The Legislature has determined that there is a need for information and study on matters such as air and water quality impacts, effects on existing industries, and allocation of water resources, with regard to energy development," the bill says.

It also states that some coal-fired power plants may have a significant negative impact upon the health, safety and welfare of the population, as well as on business, economic growth and the environment.

More than 100 members of the public spoke to a House committee March 2 in support of a moratorium.

Newcomb's bills came on the heels of similar legislation previously proposed by Stennett.

In the last session of the Idaho Legislature, Stennett introduced a bill that would have given the state control over the location and operation of power generation and transmission facilities.

The bill would have formed a statewide committee, including members of Idaho Fish and Game, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Idaho Public Utilities Commission and Idaho State Department of Agriculture that could help guide a more stringent siting process.

The bill did not get printed.

Stennett again floated the idea of a state siting committee during last summer's meetings of the interim energy committee, but with no success.

Fearing his power plant regulation bills would meet a similar fate this legislative session, Stennett this year bypassed traditional means of getting a bill printed by introducing his proposals, including a moratorium, as "personal bills."

Many did not get a hearing in committee, and only one was voted on.

"They've co-opted my bills, and that's OK," Stennett said Wednesday of the House versions. "There's a lot of interest in getting this passed. I don't care who gets credit for it."

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