MAGNA — Kennecott Utah Copper showed off a new power and steam generating plant on Wednesday that is part of a much larger project tied to state approval for mine expansion.

The larger project would see three coal-fired boilers built in the 1940s replaced with one larger turbine and boiler fueled by natural gas, which would reduce emissions and decrease its coal use for energy production from 87 percent now to 24 percent by 2014 and significantly reduce greenhouse gasses.

Kennecott said the improved power-generation strategy would be the company's single largest effort to improve air quality in the Salt Lake valley since it upgraded smelter emissions control systems in 1995. Total PM10 and PM10 precursor emissions at Kennecott would drop by more than 20 percent, the company said.

Kennecott is working to win state regulatory approval of a project that would allow the massive open-pit copper mine to expand, extending the mine's operational life. The new gas-fired power plant would provide 100 megawatts of additional power needed for that expansion, said Kelly Sanders, Kennecott Utah Copper's president and CEO.

"Kennecott's driver in proposing these upgrades is the desire to positively impact air quality in this constrained air shed and we are working hard to develop solutions," Sanders said. He added that Rio Tinto would reconsider the project if the expansion is not approved.

Rocky Anderson, executive director of High Road for Human Rights, called the plan "an important example to other industries that far more can be done to protect the public health and reduce the threat of catastrophic climate disruption.

"Generating power in a manner that results in significant reductions of carbon emissions is a very positive step forward," Anderson said, calling climate change issues a threat to essential human rights.

The power plant upgrade would leave one boiler, built in 1959, capable of running on either natural gas or coal, prompting a response to Kennecott's announcement from a coalition of seven environmental groups. The coalition says the group is pleased Kennecott has committed to reducing its use of coal but that it is disappointed Kennecott has not planned to eliminate coal altogether from its operation.

"This is most certainly a step in the right direction for the largest stationary, industrial source of air pollution (in the Salt Lake valley). Any such measure is a very positive move towards cleaning up the continual air pollution problems in our community and also a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions."

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The statement is signed by Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Utah Moms for Clean Air, Post Carbon Salt Lake, Utah Chapter Sierra Club, Breathe Utah, Peaceful Uprising and Renewable Energy Resources.

The smaller plant that was the backdrop for Kennecott's Wednesday announcement is a 6.2 megawatt natural-gas fired plant that will provide half of the electricity needed for Kennecott's copper refinery. Exhaust gasses generate steam that is used at the plant. The larger project will also use exhaust gasses to produce steam that will turn power-generating turbines.