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Power Project on Back Burner

by Chris Mulick
Tri-City Herald, May 10, 2007

OLYMPIA -- Energy Northwest this week asked the state to put off its permitting review of the public power consortium's proposed $1.5 billion power project in Kalama, just days after the governor signed this year's climate change bill into law.

Senate Bill 6001 will prevent Washington utilities from buying additional power supplies from conventional coal plants.

It also would give projects like Energy Northwest's proposed Pacific Mountain Energy Center, which would run on gasified coal, petroleum coke and possibly other fuels, five years to sequester carbon dioxide emissions underground. Otherwise, emissions would have to be offset with drastic measures, such as buying a dirty power plant and shutting it down.

Energy Northwest isn't sure five years will be enough time to determine the feasibility of sequestration. Moreover, either option for curbing greenhouse gas emissions could drive up the cost of power from the 680-megawatt project significantly. And before it takes the project to potential customers for financial commitments, the organization wants questions answered about how the law will be implemented and how agency rules will be written.

"The intended message is we're going to need more power, whether it comes from PMEC or somewhere else," said Energy Northwest spokesman Brad Peck said. "We've got to be looking now. That should not be interpreted as we're walking away from this project."

But environmentalists, who want to be sure sequestration will occur before construction starts, say it could be the beginning of the end for the project.

"I think it's a prudent move on their part," said Marc Krasnowsky, a spokesman for the Northwest Energy Coalition. "I think they've concluded their public utility customers are likely to be spending a lot more for the power from the proposed plant than they had expected to."

In his Tuesday letter to the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, Energy Northwest Vice President Jack Baker indicated the organization will consider other power supply options for its members.

"Given the uncertainty surrounding SB6001 implementation for PMEC and the time required to build major generation projects, we must immediately begin looking at alternative options for regional power supplies," he wrote.

That could include nuclear power.

"It's been a topic of discussion among the leadership here about what the likelihood is," Peck said. "All of that has been in the realm of forward thinking and brainstorming."

But despite nuclear power's lack of greenhouse gas emissions, Krasnowsky indicated there wouldn't be environmental support for it.

"Until we can really deal with the nuclear waste issue I don't see how we can go ahead with additional nuclear generation," he said. "It's a non-starter."

Chris Mulick
Power Project on Back Burner
Tri-City Herald, May 10, 2007

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