Proposed power plant in Cowlitz County to test state’s new smog law

SEATTLE Developers of a proposed power plant at the Port of Kalama in Cowlitz County are being questioned about whether they are trying hard enough to follow a new state law on limiting carbon emissions.

The Kalama plant would produce about 680 megawatts of electricity burning gas made from coal. The process is cleaner than burning coal, but it still will put millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.

Environmentalists, some government officials and some lawmakers wonder if the company is making a sincere effort to reduce pollution.

Some say the electricity suppliers behind the new plant, including Seattle City Light and more than a dozen public utility districts represented by Energy Northwest, are trying to bypass the intent of the law. The suppliers say that’s not true.

The new law, which Gov. Chris Gregoire signed in May, requires new power plants have to trap their carbon emissions unless the utilities demonstrate, after a “good-faith effort,” that it’s impossible.

Only then can plant operators offset emissions instead, by buying rights to another utility’s unused pollution capacity, for example. Lawmakers and state Department of Ecology officials have said such offsets should be a last resort.

When it submitted pollution-control plans to the state for the Kalama plant, Energy Northwest simply stated that carbon sequestration a process for trapping greenhouse gases in the earth remains unworkable in real-world practice. So until it is workable, the utility wants to pay to offset emissions.

“We represent openly and honestly the current state of technology for sequestration, and it’s just not available yet,” Energy Northwest spokesman Brad Peck said.

State officials and environmentalists objected.

“This document is not a sequestration plan, it is merely a plan to have a sequestration plan,” Assistant Attorney General Michael Tribble wrote. The Department of Ecology said Energy Northwest’s proposal was too deficient to even consider.

Both state officials and environmentalists urged the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to reject the plan as inadequate, but the council agreed to move forward with a review and will hear arguments about the issue next month.

“The first thing we’re going to do is debate compliance with the law,” said Jim Luce, chair of the council.

Peck emphasized the state’s need for more power.

Even if economic growth slows, utilities expect an increase in demand of 1,200 to 2,400 megawatts during the next six years. That’s about how long it takes to get a new plant built and operating.

“If anyone knows a sequestration technique that’s available and viable, we’d appreciate them letting us know,” Peck said.

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