Utility planners abandon plans for coal plant expansion

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SALT LAKE CITY -- One of Utah's biggest energy projects is dead, and it appears to be largely because of concerns and uncertainties about global warming. Utility planners have aborted their effort to build a third-generating unit at the Intermountain Power Plant near Delta.

The slow death of IPP Unit 3 has been apparent for quite awhile. But until now, there hasn't been a formal declaration of death for the $2 billion project.

It has big implications for Utah's coal industry and for our energy future. The existing Intermountain Power Plant sends nearly all its electricity to California. Utah's municipal utilities wanted to add a third unit--another 900 megawatts--but that required Los Angeles to be on board, and they backed out because of California's aggressive stance against global warming.

Utility planners abandon plans for coal plant expansion

Douglas Hunter, with the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, said, "The city took the position that if they had the ability to stop any coal plants from being built, they were going to do it."

Supporters of IPP expansion battled Los Angeles in the courts, but now they've quietly settled the lawsuit and abandoned the project. The unknown costs of new greenhouse gas regulations made the project too uncertain.

"With the lawsuit, we decided just to finish up and settle and get our money back that we spent on studying it and look at other things," Hunter said.

Those other things include renewable energy like wind power. It's a change of direction from coal that environmentalists have been pushing for.

Joro Walker, with Western Resource Advocates, said, "Already, we're seeing that across that state, and this will change the focus from dirty, polluting sources of energy, high in green house gas emissions, to alternative energy."

The death of the coal project reflects a national policy shift that could affect other proposals in Utah.

Hunter explained, "I don't see anything in the near future. I don't see any large conventional, what we call pulverized coal plants, being planned or built in the near future."

"When you truly examine the costs of greenhouse gas emissions and the benefits of advancing technology, and cleaning up the air, cleaning up the environment, yes, it's good for our economy," Walker said.

Hunter argues the project would have helped keep utility costs down. But in the face of regulatory uncertainty, he says abandoning it was the right thing to do.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com

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