After opposition to its plans to put another coal-fired power plant in the state, PacifiCorp, Utah's top electricity provider, has decided to focus on developing a power plant fueled by wind or natural gas rather than coal.
The company, owned by MidAmerican Energy Holdings, has withdrawn its filing for the development of a coal-fired power plant in Millard County.
"Because of the time-frame and the uncertainty around coal, based on climate change issues, (the company is) looking at a combination of natural gas and wind power projects," PacifiCorp spokesman David Eskelsen said Friday.
He said the company is hoping to develop a project that will go online by the year 2014. By the end of January, PacifiCorp will seek requests for proposal to build the facility, he added.
Eskelsen said PacifiCorp had considered building a power facility at the Intermountain Power Agency's site in Millard County, but those plans had to be scratched.
The coal-fired plant "was one of the company's benchmark options," said Eskelsen. "But that is not a viable option because that project is encumbered pending litigation."
That litigation includes a lawsuit filed last month by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems against the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and the Intermountain Power Agency, due to their refusal to support construction of a third coal-power unit of the Intermountain Power Project station. The plant's two existing units are about 15 miles northeast of Delta.
He said because of PacifiCorp's relatively short time-frame and high development costs for constructing new power plants, building one that uses coal, solar or nuclear energy isn't feasible.
Eskelsen said in the near term, and for the size of the project the company wants, wind and natural gas are currently the only realistic options.
Those comments drew praise from local environmental advocates.
"It's good news," said Tim Wagner, director of the Utah Smart Energy campaign for the Sierra Club's Utah chapter.
"There are numerous advantages for them for doing that," Wagner said. "A natural gas plant has half the carbon footprint of a coal plant, and natural gas plants are much easier to modulate when combining energy from a resource like wind."
He said the ability to ramp up natural-gas supplies when wind power is low and decrease supplies when wind energy is plentiful can be of great benefit to PacifiCorp in terms of efficiency.
"Coal is much more difficult to scale down and bring back up," he said.
PacifiCorp said it eventually wants to develop a 1,700-megawatt facility in Utah, Idaho or Wyoming in the next five to six years. With its options somewhat limited, Eskelsen said, the challenge will be locating the plant near already existing transmission lines to facilitate distribution.
Wherever the company chooses to build, the Sierra Club said it will be pleased with the switch to a less environmentally harmful energy resource.
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