ST. GEORGE Opposition continues to grow against a private company's proposal to build a massive coal-fired power plant on 640 acres of federal land about 12 miles northwest of Mesquite on Utah's border.
"This plant would burn 3 million tons of coal each year, about 11,200 pounds of coal every minute for the next 50 or 60 years, which would have dramatic impacts on air quality in southern Nevada and Utah," said Michele Burkett, director of Defend Our Desert, a Mesquite-based nonprofit working against Toquop Energy's plans to build the power plant.
"We want (Nevada) Gov. (Jim) Gibbons and other elected officials to realize that many people will suffer from the massive amount of pollutants that will be released into our air from the dirty coal that Toquop will burn," Burkett said.
The proposed $1.2 billion Toquop Energy Project would generate 750 megawatts of electricity, enough to provide power to 75,000 homes in the Las Vegas and Phoenix area, according to the permit application filed by Sithe Global Power.
The company's original plan to build a natural gas-fired power plant at the site changed to coal when gas prices escalated. A new environmental impact statement is now required, which is in its final stages, according to the Nevada Bureau of Land Management.
In a Dec. 14 review of the draft environmental impact statement for the project, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rated the proposal as EC-2, or Environmental Concerns Insufficient Information.
The final EIS should address the following topics in greater detail, according to the review document: the scope of the alternatives analysis, the potential adverse impact to approximately 16 acres of aquatic resource, the uncertainty of groundwater availability, and issues associated with greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
Toquop Energy project manager Tom Johns said many of those issues are ongoing concerns for any coal-fired power plant.
"In my review of the letter, I didn't see anything that couldn't be resolved in the final EIS," Johns said. "We expect the air quality operating permit to be issued."
Lin Alder, executive director of Citizens for Dixie's Future, said the coal-fired power plant needs even further environmental review to address the potential health and economic impacts to communities in southern Utah.
In a letter to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Air Pollution Control, Alder suggested the agency had a moral and legal obligation to hold a public hearing on the subject in the St. George area.
"We believe this request is supported not only by state and federal law, but by the generally accepted values of fairness and good neighborliness," Alder wrote. "It is our residents who will likely bear the brunt of impacts caused by the Toquop Energy Project."
Although the Nevada agency agreed that Sithe Global's plans to build the coal-fired plant is generating substantial public interest in the region, there are other ways to comment beyond attending a public hearing in person.
Even so, wrote Matthew DeBurle of the Nevada agency's Bureau of Air Pollution Control, an extension was granted for the public comment period that would have closed following the Feb. 7 hearing in Mesquite. Public comments now will be accepted until Feb. 22.
Johns disagrees with Alder's analysis and said there is only a "small emissions envelope" that would impact the southern Utah region.
"I understand their concerns, but we gathered wind data at the proposed site for over a year and more than 80 percent of the time the prevailing winds aren't anywhere near St. George," said Johns. "In all our air modeling, the area most likely to be impacted by the plant must be within a 50 kilometer area, and that doesn't include St. George."
All three Washington County commissioners have indicated support for the project, noting that the solar and wind power industry hasn't "matured enough to the point that it can be considered an economically viable alternative to the Toquop proposal," Commissioners Alan Gardner, James Eardley and Dennis Drake wrote in an editorial printed in a local newspaper. "After reviewing the Toquop proposal and its environmental safeguards, we feel that our initial concerns have been satisfied."
Toquop spokesman Frank Maisano said the company has informally discussed providing power to the southern Utah region with several local officials.
"This area's need for power is growing rapidly, and the issue hit home for many people we talked to in Washington County," said Maisano. "Our perspective is that we're trying to meet an incredible power need and we need to look at a much larger picture. I understand that there is a legacy of issues that are difficult for us to get over."The city councils of Springdale, Rockville, Ivins and Mesquite have all passed resolutions against the project. More information can be found online at www.toquopenergyproject.com or www.nv.blm.gov/ely/.
Toquop Energy Project public meetings
• Tonight: Citizens for Dixie's Future: "Love Your Air; Stop Toquop" at 6 p.m., Grace Episcopal Church, 1072 E. 900 South, St. George
• Thursday: Defend Our Desert: "Say No to Coal" at 5 p.m. PST, Mesquite City Hall, 10 E. Mesquite Blvd., Mesquite, Nev.• Thursday: Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, public hearing, 6 p.m. PST, Mesquite City Hall