Power-plant plan rejected; fails to meet emissions law
Seattle Times environment reporter
New power plants built to light Washington must limit their greenhouse-gas pollution, according to a ruling Tuesday that affirms a new direction for the state's pursuit of electricity.
In a critical first test of a new state law meant to block construction of power plants that spew climate-changing gases, a state panel soundly rejected plans for a 793-megawatt plant in Kalama, Cowlitz County, that would be fueled by coal or oil-refinery waste.
The decision by the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which oversees power-plant permits, is a blow for Energy Northwest, the coalition of 20 Washington public utilities that wants to build the plant.
It's also among a string of recent setbacks for new polluting power plants nationwide — including ones in Florida, Kansas and Texas — as concerns rise about climate change.
"Burning coal for energy is a 19th-century answer to the problems that we have in front of us," said attorney Jan Hasselman, of Earthjustice, which represented environmental groups in challenging the Energy Northwest plan for Kalama. "We think that it is time to move on."
The state energy-facility council's strongly worded and unanimous ruling sided with the environmental groups and several state agencies. They all had argued that Energy Northwest essentially was trying to skirt a new state law.
That law, passed in the spring, requires new power plants to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, to the same levels of a high-efficiency, natural-gas power plant. Any plant puffing out more than that — such as a coal-fired plant — must capture the extra and find a way to store it permanently.
Energy Northwest claimed that the current state of technology limits its ability to store the greenhouse gases, so it promised that if it could build the plant, it would come up with a more detailed plan in the future.
But the energy council said sharply that Energy Northwest's approach "misses the mark by a wide margin."
It said Energy Northwest was basically asking the council to overturn the new state law, which it can't do. Simply having "a plan to make a plan" wasn't adequate, the council said.
The council halted any further consideration of the application to build the plant.
Energy Northwest spokesman Gary Miller on Tuesday said the group needs time to review the decision before deciding on its next step. The group's leaders have previously said a requirement to capture the gases, called sequestration, could thwart the project.
Kim Schmanke, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Ecology, said the agency would work with Energy Northwest to find a solution. Ecology was among the opponents to the Energy Northwest plan for the project, as was the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development.
Meanwhile, the ruling could give a boost to a separate effort to build a coal-fueled power plant along the Columbia River near Wallula, Walla Walla County, in Eastern Washington.
Promoters of that project, led by United Power of Gig Harbor, say it would be able to store much of its greenhouse gases in basalt rocks beneath the site. Tests are planned to determine whether that's really so. The state energy council hasn't yet considered whether that plant would meet the new state law.
Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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