Friday, February 2, 2007

93 bottles of beer on the wall

The State of Idaho published an energy plan January 2007. The 93-page document was drafted after legislators passed a two-year moratorium on coal-fired power plants in 2006. The plan does not ban nuclear power plants. In 2006 opposition to a $1.4B, 600-Mw coal-fired power plant in Jerome County near Twin Falls sparked statewide concern about siting energy plants.

Disagreement about the plan over decision making authority for energy plants appeared almost immediately. Watchdog groups such as the Snake River Alliance said they were concerned that giving counties the final say-so on new plants would disregard environmental impacts. Supporters of state level oversight said government review was necessary because of out-of-state actors who have multi-state impacts. Other states in the West, including Oregon and Montana which share borders with Idaho, have statewide energy panels to oversee siting of power plants.

The plan includes sections on renewable energy technologies including wind, biodiesel, ethanol, and conservation.

It's unlikely anyone will plan to build a coal-fired power plant in Idaho soon. Idaho does not participate in a federal program that allows states to buy or trade "credits" for mercury emissions. The Twin-Falls, ID, Times-News emphasized this point in an editorial on January 28th, and said why Idaho has taken this position.

Don Chisholm, a Burley attorney, and board member for the Department of Environment Quality, said legislators have the flexibility to allow mercury emitting plants -- but at more restrictive levels given under the Clean Air Mercury rules.

"If the Legislature were to decide they're going to allow for some generation in the state, they would tell (DEQ) to write the rules," he said. "They can opt-in on a modified set of rules, so you don't adopt federal rules in total."

To go above federal standards, however, requires more state funding of regulation -- a point that this Legislature and governor may not embrace. Their fear for excessive regulation of industry has some justification, but Idahoans may expect Idaho air and water to remain cleaner than the national standard.

Democrats in the legislature crafted a minority response to the plan that highlighted their concern about the lack of a statewide plant siting panel. Legal challenges over conflicts between local priorities and federal environmental standards are likely to emerge for any new power plants regardless of who wants one or where.

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