Idaho Falls voters mull buying in to Utah coal plant
Last winter, Idaho lawmakers banned new coal-fired power plants for two years. But the law does not prevent cities, like Idaho Falls, from buying coal power from across the Utah border.
Many officials in this mid-sized eastern Idaho city are pushing voters to say yes to a ballot question that would authorize Idaho Falls to issue $58 million in bonds to buy into Intermountain Power Project Unit No. 3, a generating station at a coal plant slated for construction near Delta, Utah.
The $2 billion unit is scheduled to be built between 2008 and 2012.
Idaho Falls Mayor Jared Fuhriman supports buying into the Delta site, which he visited last month. He says the city needs to boost its available power to brace for population growth.
“I’m relieved to have seen it for myself,” Fuhriman told the Post Register newspaper in Idaho Falls. “We’re just going to let the facts speak for themselves.”
But environmentalists say coal is a relic of a high-polluting era and Idaho Falls should look to cleaner sources of power.
Coal-fired plants produce more carbon dioxide – which most scientists say contributes to global warming – than any other source of power, said Tim Wagner, director of the Utah Smart Energy Campaign for the Sierra Club.
“If Idahoans don’t want coal plants in their state, how is it that Idaho Falls is willing to buy power from one built in Utah?” he said. “There’s no doubt there’s a big coal rush going on in this country, but we can make some better choices.”
Proponents say that two existing units at the Intermountain Power Project employ state-of-the-art scrubbers and boilers, emitting an airy white vapor from its smoke stacks, rather than clouds of black smoke.
“I thought for a facility that has been in operation for 20 years, it was in very good condition,” said Idaho Falls Power Manager Jackie Flowers.
The two existing units, which came online in the 1980s, used to sell more than half of their electricity to the Los Angeles area.
But concerns over carbon dioxide emissions and global warming prompted the city to pull out of its contract with Intermountain Power. Los Angeles’ utility, like many others in California, is opting to buy into renewable forms of energy, like wind and solar.
Wagner says Idaho Falls should heed the example of California, the country’s largest energy consumer.
“If the city of Los Angeles can see the logic of going that direction, I think the city of Idaho Falls ought to be able to,” Wagner said.