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Critic Blasts Planned Coal-fed Plant

by Don Jenkins
The Daily News, May 2, 2006

A coal-gasification plant would be more environmentally friendly than traditional coal plants, but would still release as much heat-trapping greenhouse gas as a city of 450,000 people, a critic of a proposed energy plant at the Port of Kalama said Monday.

"It's a significant emitter of greenhouse gasses, and we need to recognize that," said Nancy Hirsh, policy director of the NW Energy Coalition.

Hirsh and representatives from Energy Northwest, which proposes building the 600-megawatt, coal-fed power plant, made competing presentations to about 60 people at the Lower Columbia College Student Center.

The two groups with similar names have dissimilar views about whether the Pacific Northwest needs the plant.

A consortium of 19 utilities, Energy Northwest says the plant it's dubbed the "Pacific Mountain Energy Center" could be running and supplying energy for a growing regional economy by 2012.

Project manager Tom Krueger said 17 utilities, including Cowlitz PUD, already have signed "non-binding expressions of interest" in buying energy from the plant.

Hirsh, however, said renewable energy coupled with conservation can meet the region's growing energy demands. Renewable energy now makes up less than 2 percent of the electricity consumed in the Northwest, she said. "There's a lot of potential for non-hydro renewable energy sources."

Although the plant would use coal or petroleum coke, a byproduct of refining oil, Energy Northwest objects to calling its project a "coal-fired plant."

Several times Krueger and Energy Northwest spokesman Brad Peck distanced the project from coal. "It's truly not a coal plant," Krueger said.

The coal would be pressurized and heated into a gas. Energy Northwest emphasizes the plant would pollute less than a conventional coal plant, though it would emit more carbon dioxide than a natural gas-fired power plant.

Carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping greenhouse gas linked by some scientists to global warming and ocean acidification.

Energy Northwest says the carbon dioxide could someday be stored permanently underground instead of released into the air. Laboratories are working on "carbon sequestration," but the technology is not ready.

Cowlitz PUD, like other utilities, wants to diversify energy sources and decrease reliance on a stressed hydropower system.

Energy Northwest predicts the cost of the energy produced at its Kalama plant would be more costly than hydroelectricity, but comparable to wind power and cheaper than electricity from natural gas-fired plants. Hirsh said there's nothing cheaper than conservation and that coal-gasification plants still encourage environmentally damaging mining.

Don Jenkins
Critic Blasts Planned Coal-fed Plant
The Daily News, May 2, 2006

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