Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Governor signs bill to halt power plant

Two-year moratorium on coal-fired plants made official

Express Staff Writer

A stroke of a pen Friday by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne made official a two-year state moratorium on some coal-fired power plants.

The idea of a moratorium has bounced around in the legislature all session, prompted by Sempra Generation's announcement in April 2005 that it wanted to build a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Jerome County.

The company announced last month, however, they would sell their development rights to the project. But others could take its place.

Two previous versions of a moratorium—one sponsored by Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, the other by Rep. Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls—stalled earlier this session.

Retiring House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, introduced the current version, labeled H791.

The House passed the bill on March 21 by a vote of 64-5. The Senate passed it by 30-5 the following week.

The legislation exempts coal gasification plants and projects owned or constructed by public utilities, cooperatives or municipalities.

Some legislators attempted to hold the bill hostage in return for votes on other bills—a common tactic in political maneuvering.

But Stennett, Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, and other supporters of the bill said they were confident it would eventually find its way to the governor's desk.

"With the amount of political support there was for signing that bill and the fact that Sempra had already pulled the plug ... if the governor didn't sign it, there would be such a political backlash," Stennett said Monday.

The next step for legislators regarding this issue is to draft a state energy plan.

Stennett will serve on the Energy, Environment and Technology Interim Committee, which will meet two days every month during the summer. That's a marked increase in meetings from previous interim sessions, he said.

"We'll write the energy plan and delve into what we might do about siting and energy-related issues," he said.

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