Fossil-fuel plants up for comment

Alison Boggs -
Spokesman-Review Staff writer


Eastern Washington residents will have a chance tonight to comment on proposed state rules for permitting large fossil-fuel power plants, including the amount of carbon dioxide they emit.

Washington's Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), which oversees permitting for power plants larger than 350 megawatts, is holding a meeting to take public comment.

EFSEC's rule will address water and air quality, wetlands, fish and wildlife and noise. However, carbon dioxide emissions have attracted the most attention.

When the rule eventually goes into effect -- the goal is July 2004 -- Washington will become only the second state, following Oregon, to have a carbon dioxide mitigation standard for power plants. Mitigation in this case means to fund projects that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The rules also will likely influence similar standards being developed by the state Department of Ecology for smaller power plants.

"As the draft rule stands today, Washington would be the leader in requiring carbon dioxide mitigation from large thermal power plants," said Jim Luce, EFSEC chairman.

The rule calls for power plants to pay to mitigate 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions at a rate of 87 cents per metric ton. Oregon's law calls for mitigation of 17 percent of emissions at 85 cents per ton.

Some environmental groups, however, are not impressed with the rule proposed for Washington.

"We think the standards they're talking about are miserable," said Marc Krasnowsky, communications director for NW Energy Coalition, one of the region's leading conservation groups.

The cost of mitigation starts at about $2 a ton and runs up to $11, Krasnowsky said. The Energy Coalition's proposal calls for mitigating 40 percent of emissions, at $2 a ton. Also, Krasnowsky said, EFSEC's rule wraps in administrative costs, which lowers the actual money devoted to mitigation.

Krasnowsky said Washington's rule has the potential to set precedent because of the other agencies taking their cue from it. "If EFSEC comes in with a crappy rule for the large ones, then the local agencies will come in with a crappy rule for the smaller ones," Krasnowsky said.

Luce counters that asking developers to pay $2 a ton might conflict with one of EFSEC's statutory objectives -- assuring the right to abundant power at a reasonable cost.

At $2 a ton, Luce said, "it would certainly not be an incentive" to developers to build additional power plants. "We picked 20 percent at 87 cents because we thought it was a balanced approach," Luce said.

Collins Sprague, Avista's director of state government relations in Olympia, put it more succinctly.

"If you were to apply a standard of $2 or $4 a ton, you wouldn't have any power plants built in Washington," Sprague said.

Krasnowsky counters that development of renewable energy sources would remove the need for additional power plants.

Cities, counties, developers, environmentalists and other industries all have weighed in on the proposed rule.

The Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association submitted testimony but has not taken a position on the proposed rules.

"We're concerned about the impact of man-made climate change on the snowpack, not just for our business, but for all the elements of our society, from salmon to our hydropower tradition to all the species that require a certain amount of water to be stored in our mountains and released slowly over time," said Scott Kaden, president of the PNSAA, which represents ski areas in Washington, North Idaho, Oregon and Alaska. "We're basically offering testimony to the fact that yes, it does have commercial implications."

Sprague said additional generation will be needed in this region and he's concerned about the financial impact the rules could have on the building or expansion of power plants. When Avista built its Coyote Springs II plant in Oregon, Sprague said, it paid $1 million in carbon dioxide mitigation costs.

"We wouldn't want (a rule) that would render a power plant uneconomical," Sprague said.

Sprague said Avista would prefer any standards be set as law by the Legislature, as they were in Oregon, rather than as rules, by EFSEC. Luce countered that the Legislature granted EFSEC the authority to establish such rules.

EFSEC likely will issue a final draft of the proposed rules in March. Then it will hold another round of public meetings and hope to adopt the rules by July 2004.


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