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Group vows to reignite fight against power plant

Published April 11, 2012 5:38 pm

Energy • Critic says Utah will get pollution but not the power.
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Critics of an electric plant planned for the Sevier Valley are gearing up for another battle now that state regulators have signaled their intention to approve the plant.

Sevier Power Co. wants to build a 580-megawatt electric generating station, powered by natural gas, at the same site in Sigurd where the company proposed a 270-megawatt coal-fired plant eight years ago. That project was abandoned after years of controversy and a shift in the market away from coal-generated power.

Retiree and local activist Dick Cumiskey promises that the Sevier Citizens for Clean Air & Water will "vigorously oppose" the state permit.

"The plant is excessively large — double the original output of the doomed coal-fired plant rejected several years ago," he said. "At double the size [it] will emit nearly as much air pollution as the coal-fired plant would have and does not provide any electrical power for Utah.

"We would get the pollution," Cumiskey said, "while someone else will receive the power."

Bruce Taylor, the power company's managing director, said he's taking a wait-and see-approach to opposition this time. But he pointed out the new proposal already has local approval and the latest plans were engineered with future demand in mind, as well as environmental protection.

"We certainly think Utah's a strong market, and all of the West is a strong market," Taylor said. "We also think that it's an environmentally conscious plant."

An air-cooled, combined-cycle plant that could be brought up to speed within 40 minutes, the plant would complement intermittent, alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power, he added.

On Wednesday, the Utah Division of Air Quality published a notice of its intent to approve the plant.

That triggered a public notice period that runs through May 11 and prompted a request for a public hearing that has yet to be scheduled, said John Jenks, an engineer with the division.

Jenks also pointed to the division's notice showing that, even in a worst-case scenario, the plant is not expected to emit significant amounts of pollution. And its impact on air quality at national parks in the area — Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Zion — is projected to be negligible.

The division's pollution estimates "are overly conservative," Jenks said, "and we don't think that poses a health threat."

"In essence," he said, "we've completed our review of the initial application and concluded their project complies with the rules."

As originally proposed, the Sigurd plant would have used coal from the nearby SUFCO coal mine. But the citizens' group fought the project in local court, at the county commission, before the Utah Air Quality Board, in a ballot question and even the state Supreme Court.

Cumiskey argued the case before the high court justices with Sevier Citizens co-founder, the late Jim Kennon, and they won, after pointing out that a license extension had been approved with a Post-it note.

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah