Repeated powering down of energy options is ridiculous

July 12, 2010
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The revival and sustainability of economic growth in West Michigan took another unwarranted hit last week when the Michigan Public Service Commission frowned on the city of Holland’s plan for a new coal-fired power plant, estimated to cost $250 million.

An MPSC report to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment said the plan fails to demonstrate why the new plant is needed to address a projected increase in fuel needs over the next several years. Holland's Board of Public Works also has underestimated the potential impact of renewable energy options and other alternatives to expanding the coal-fired power plant in Holland, the study indicated. 

Holland BPW officials were quick to point out the report was not an outright denial of an air quality permit application for the project. It’s still up to the DNRE to determine whether Holland's application to construct the expansion satisfies the state's guidelines and the requirements of federal air quality laws.

With the Board of Public Works expected to need additional power-generating capacity by 2016, a consultant has recommended expanding the coal-fired James DeYoung plant. Among the job-creating facilities expected to add significantly to the underwhelmed Holland-area power grid are a pair of planned battery manufacturing sites of Johnson Controls-Saft and LG Chem that promise to employ hundreds of workers.

In early 2009, Gov. Jennifer Granholm directed the MDEQ to review all applications for coal plants in Michigan in an effort to move toward more green energy alternatives. The directive served to put clean coal plants and many related alternatives on hold, consequently forcing many workers out of a job at a time Michigan could least afford it.

As was noted in a Business Journal guest column by State Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, in early 2009, the stricter permitting guidelines and moratorium on coal plants is hurting Michigan’s chances to handle future power needs. A deficient power grid nationwide, tested to maximum capacity by extreme weather conditions — such as those experienced in this area last week — leaves communities stressed to the limits to keep up with rising electricity demands.

The idea to expand the coal-fired plant with a new power-producing facility was part of a 354-page report created by consulting group Black & Veatch.

The expansion would be "the most fuel flexible of all alternatives considered in that it would be capable of burning coal, petroleum coke, biosolids, biomass and other fuels," Black & Veatch said.

MPSC’s critical report said Holland officials only analyzed one base scenario in plans to expand the plant, and other power options were not fully explored.

Holland BPW officials said the project is one option among several being evaluated. They can point to a rejection by the U.S. Energy Department of the BPW’s application for a project that would have captured carbon-dioxide gases from a new plant boiler and injected those gases in rock formations underground. The BPW also pulled the plug on a proposed wind farm in the eastern Upper Peninsula that would have generated renewable energy for the city-owned utility, saying wind speeds were not adequate to make the project cost-effective.

The MPSC’s report follows a disturbing trend that keeps Michigan treading water when there is no rescue boat in sight.

In May, the DNRE denied (after a two-year wait) an air quality permit to Wolverine Power Cooperative — a generation and transmission electric cooperative headquartered in Cadillac. Wolverine is seeking to build a new power plant utilizing clean coal technology. Many see the project as an example of inexpensive, clean energy.

It’s more evidence of a broken state bureaucracy that must be dragged out of its damaging malaise before there literally won’t be many lights to turn off. The motor’s running, and businesses are heading down the road. When will the state get out of their way?

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