New Utah Power Plants Restricted by Referendum

Published January 1, 2009

Sevier County, Utah voters have approved a referendum requiring public approval for new coal-fired power plants, placing severe restrictions on the ability of power companies to meet growing electricity demand in the region. The vote may be challenged in court.

Sevier Power Co. is seeking to build a 270 megawatt coal-fired power plant on 300 acres of privately owned land in central Utah near the town of Sigurd. With passage of the referendum, Sevier Power’s proposal will be subject to a special election.

Called Federalism Victory

Coal opponents applauded the November 4 vote.

“Proposition 1 is a great example of American federalism in action,” said Matt Harrison, founder of the Prometheus Institute. “The question of whether the economic benefits of coal are worth the environmental costs is not easily answered empirically. What’s more, competition and technological advancements will also inevitably modify the calculations. Whether or not one personally likes coal, so-called ‘clean’ coal, or natural gas, one should applaud the citizens of Sevier County for freely expressing their opinion on the matter.

“It is far better for such questions to be decided by states and localities—the ‘workshop of liberty’ in James Madison’s words—rather than being dictated by Washington pseudo-scientific technocrats who don’t know the answers better than anyone else,” Harrison said.

Lobbyists Run Amuck

Steve Holton of The Heritage Foundation disagreed, saying to single out coal power plants for voter approval is part of an attempt to use politics to destroy a valuable industry.

“I would really hate to be in the shoes of anyone trying to build a coal plant these days,” Holton said. “[President-elect] Obama said himself that he would bankrupt the industry once in office. The last I heard, the United States is trying to phase out all coal plants by 2014 and make a strong push toward nuclear energy.”

“I lived in Washington, DC for six years before recently moving to Atlanta,” Holton noted, “and I know from firsthand experience that the lobby effort to phase out coal-fired plants for nuclear plants has tripled.”

“One of the main concerns that environmental groups try to use to shut down this technology is still focused on the perception of carbon dioxide causing global warming, and all the scare tactics associated with it,” said Matt Schumsky, an environmental legislation policy analyst at FreedomWorks. “With over 20,000 scientists who have now signed on to the fact that CO2 and man are not the cause of any global warming, I find it very concerning that these environmental groups are going to try to use that [issue] to drive off a very environmentally sound source of energy.”

Schumsky continued, “Not knowing if Sevier Energy is going to try and build a CO2 capturing system into this plant makes a difference in both the debate with the environmental groups and the overall cost of the project both short- and long-term. The successful global warming hysteria campaign was specifically meant to help drive even small projects like these away, even though they are addressing the issues of the real pollutants such as carbon monoxide and even mercury emissions.”

Limited Options

Holton said there are two choices for Sevier Power Co. to consider.

“One: If I were hell-bent on building a coal plant in this particular county and I had a lot of time and money to burn in and out of court, I would sue the county. I would also urge the county to produce sound evidence that this coal plant will indeed endanger the lives of citizens, as well as show how the plant can be beneficial to the community and economy. In other words, show me a precedent from another community where a coal-fired plant drastically altered the health of an entire town.

“Two: I would do the smart thing and shop for another county to build the plant in or switch over to clean-burning natural gas,” Holton continued. “This issue will be tied up in court for a while, and a lot of money will be spent otherwise.”

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.