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Commentaries and editorials

More Generating Plants a Necessity

by John Webster, editorial board
The Spokesman Review, November 30, 2000

Our View: NIMBYism only invites suffering in the cold and dark.

Northwest residents need more electricity -- and tend to resist every major method for generating that electricity.

This creates a challenge for the utilities that produce our electricity.

This also creates a serious challenge for the public.

The challenge will not be resolved in some faraway place. Northwest residents will resolve it close to home, in places like Rathdrum, Idaho. There, neighbors right now are discussing a proposal by Avista Utilities to modify an existing natural gas turbine plant, in a way that will boost its electrical generating capacity.

Natural gas turbines are not as objectionable to public opinion as are the other available methods for generating large quantities of power at an affordable price -- nuclear reactors, coal plants and hydroelectric dams. Still, turbines do generate two byproducts -- noise and exhaust consisting mostly of water vapor and carbon dioxide. Turbines have to be built near gas pipelines with adequate capacity. Wherever that turns out to be, someone will wind up being a neighbor and will feel tempted to reach for the well-developed tools of protest and litigation.

To what end? If new generating capacity is simply stymied, we hurt our own communities. What we need is perspective and a constructive, problem-solving ethic.

Here's why: As a society we rely ever more heavily on marvelous devices that use electricity, from desktop computers to medical imaging scanners. What's more, here in the Inland Northwest we want better jobs, if possible from new-economy, high-tech firms like those that bless the booming Puget Sound area. These firms consume large quantities of power.

In other words, we have grown, we will grow and yet we have not constructed adequate electrical generating capacity.

The result is a serious likelihood of power blackouts -- this winter and for several years to come. Yes, noise for power plant neighbors is a real concern, though it can be mitigated. If blackouts roll across our region during a cold snap, that too will be a serious concern, for millions, including folks right here. The best available analysis of the power shortage is in an Oct. 12 report produced by the Northwest Power Planning Council ( The report says the blackout risk will persist until additional generating capacity is built, which will take several years.

What to do? Utilities, such as Avista, must not only listen to neighbors' concerns, they must be willing to modify projects to respond to those concerns. Avista knows this. That's why it is now listening to Rathdrum residents and has shown on several occasions -- such as the relicensing of its dams on the Clark Fork River -- that it is willing to make modifications so plants can proceed.

If we all work to be neighbors in the best and largest sense, this very serious, imminent challenge can be solved.

John Webster, for the Editorial Board
More Generating Plants a Necessity
Spokesman Review, November 30, 2000

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