Monday, March 1, 2010

Sevier Power Company Dumps Coal

Richfield, Utah –

After a meeting of the Sevier County Commission today, representatives from Sevier Power indicated that they had solicited bids from two companies to furnish natural gas to their proposed energy generation facility in Sigurd, Utah. The move effectively left the support of the county’s coal mining industry in the dust. Rod Clark and Bruce Taylor, spokesmen for Sevier Power, entered the county chambers just before noon with Ken May, president of Arch Coal’s Sufco mine operations in Salina.

At the February 1st meeting, Commission chair Gary Mason of Aurora expressed surprise that Sevier Power was a “no-show” after being placed on the county’s agenda then. At that time, Commissioner Mason indicated that he was sure that they would be in attendance at the commissioner’s very next scheduled meeting also during February. Opponents of the plant were surprised that Sevier Power Company was even in existence since vacating their Richfield offices last summer.

“We are trying to get a sense of where we’re at,” said commission chairman Gary Mason as he opened the agenda item, “A lot of things have happened. We know that a zoning lawsuit has been dismissed so that we can move forward. There was a [state of Utah] Supreme Court decision but at this point, none of us knows exactly where the permitting process is at.” Mason continued, “We would like to move forward. We have a valid permit [application] before us,” at which point Commissioner Mason called upon Mr. Clark.

“We don’t know what the supreme court decision means,” began Clark, “We need to let you guys figure out what the next steps are. We think we’ve done everything you’ve asked us to do and we are waiting for a county permit.”

In the light of the state’s Supreme Court decision, Mason asked Clark to take 30 days to come back with options that are appropriate for their current plans. Clark responded to the commissioners, stating, “If that’s a good faith request, we’ll try to get back to you in two weeks with some clarification.”

The Sevier County commissioners were asking Sevier Power to clarify the company’s intent with all of their options, which Mason theorized were: moving forward with the current permit, converting to another fuel source instead of coal or dropping the permit application entirely. In November 2008, a citizen’s initiative was put on the county ballot after clearing a state Supreme Court hurdle which allowed the voters of the county to approve a coal-fired power plant permit. Representatives from the county’s Right to Vote committee were in attendance at today’s commission meeting. Elaine Bonavita, one of the initiative’s organizers said, “They’ve still got to get past us if they’re going to use coal for power generation.”

With a resumption of the permitting process now calendared for the commissioner’s April 5th meeting, more input from Sevier Power Co. as well as Sevier Citizens for Clean Air and Water and the Right to Vote Committee is expected.

It was after the county meeting that Clark confirmed rumored plans to switch to natural gas for their facility’s fuel source. When asked how they proposed to get a gas line that would furnish sufficient capacity for a 500 Megawatt plant from Scipio to Sigurd, Clark quipped, “Very carefully.” The closest natural gas line with that capacity roughly parallels Interstate 15 and would require easements and rights of way through 33 miles into Sigurd. Clark did not disclose the cost for that kind of infrastructure support, but indicated that Sevier Power Company had obtained two estimates from companies other than Questar to provide the pipeline. “One was very high,” said Clark, gesturing above his head, “and the other one we’ll have to investigate further.”

Clark confirmed that his company has no contracts to furnish power to the grid as a merchant plant since Sevier Power is independent of Rocky Mountain Power or its parent, PacifiCorp. He said that no contracts from rural power cooperatives had been obtained either.

Opponents of the coal-fired plan were in attendance at the commissioner’s meeting and were interested in the details of the fuel source change. Their spokesman had remarked that Sevier Power’s switch to natural gas would forsake the miners who had vigorously defended the 240 MgW coal-fired plan. With several legal and application hurdles to overcome regarding coal use, the natural gas plan may prove easier not only with the EPA but at the local level where the 2008 citizen’s initiative would not apply.

Dick Cumiskey, the managing director of Sevier Citizens for Clean Air and Water said, “Before they begin an application for a natural gas plant, we would ask the county commissioners to have Sevier Power withdraw their coal permit application. These guys haven’t been able to complete any of their obligations in the permitting process.” Clark said that the power developer wouldn’t withdraw their coal permit before obtaining a permit for using natural gas, leaving a potential impasse for the county commissioners to sort out. It was clear from their comments made today that Sevier Power had already begun plans to switch from using coal to natural gas which the locals viewed as a significant development.
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