Environmentalists Speak Out Against Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plant

Monday, July 9th 2007, 2:25 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Environmentalists warned of the risks of global warming and health problems Monday as testimony got under way on a plan by a coalition of Oklahoma utilities to build a $1.8 billion, 950-megawatt coal-fired power plant.

The plan by Public Service Company of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company and the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority represents ``the largest private investment ever proposed for Oklahoma,'' PSO President and CEO Stuart Solomon told members of the Corporation Commission.

The proposed Red Rock plant will help the utilities keep up with growing consumer demand for electricity and keep costs down by using low-cost coal as a fuel instead of natural gas, Solomon said. Coal costs 85 percent less than natural gas, which has increased in price 117 percent over the last five years, according to utility officials.

The plant has come under fire from Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp., the third largest independent gas producer in the U.S.

``I don't know why there is so much opposition,'' Solomon said. ``It's extremely important from a fuel diversity standpoint.''

But opponents said the plant will contribute to global warming by spewing heat and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and will produce other dangerous pollutants, including mercury, which could create health problems.

``Coal is one of the worst pollutants we have,'' said Carl Reynolds of Porum, who appeared before the commission in a Green Party T-shirt. ``Coal is not clean.''

Jean McMahon of Fort Gibson said she is concerned about global warming's impact on nature. Before the hearing, McMahon donned a suit that resembled a polar bear, which scientists say could be threatened by global warming, and held a sign that read ``Global Warming is Real.''

``Global warming is a moral issue,'' McMahon said.

Josh Miller of Oklahoma City said utilities should devote more resources to alternative forms of energy, including wind and solar power. Miller scoffed at comments by Solomon that the utilities proposed the coal-fired unit to serve their customers.

``It's going to cost the customers,'' he said. ``They're first off concerned about the bottom line.''

Utility officials have said the plant will be safer than traditional coal-burning power plants and will employ so-called ``ultra super critical'' technology that uses high temperatures and pressure to maximize the efficiency of coal, producing more electricity and less emissions.

The technology has been used in Europe and Asia, and the Oklahoma plant will be one of its first uses in the U.S., Solomon said. A similar plant is being built in Arkansas, he said.

The utilities have asked the Corporation Commission to pre-approve the generating unit, which would be located in Noble County about 80 miles north of Oklahoma City. Solomon said the plant will not be built unless the commission determines it is needed.

``The dollars are simply too significant,'' Solomon said. Pre-approval would authorize recovery of some of the project's costs and avoid the possibility the commission might later bar some plant costs from the utilities' rate base, he said.

``I think there is a presumption of recoverability that goes along with that,'' Solomon said.

PSO will own 50 percent of the Red Rock project, OG&E will operate the facility and own 42 percent and the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority, which provides electric power to about 20 communities in the state, will own 8 percent.

Red Rock would be located next to OG&E's Sooner Power Plant facilities.