Friday, January 20, 2006

Stennett introduces bills to control power plants

15-month moratorium on applications for coal-fired plants proposed


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum

In reaction to the prospect of a merchant power plant being constructed in Jerome County, Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, is introducing this week multiple bills to the Idaho Legislature.

Two of the bills were assigned numbers Thursday; the other three will be introduced today, Stennett said.

Sempra Generation announced last April that it intends to build a $1.4 billion, 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant 9 miles northeast of Jerome in Jerome County.

Stennett maintains that the state is being targeted because of its lack of laws regulating power plant siting, emissions and other aspects related to such a project.

During the 2004-05 legislative session, he attempted to introduce a state siting bill, which would have formed a multi-agency committee to oversee the siting process.

The bill died without getting printed.

It met a similar fate with the interim energy committee last summer.

This session, Stennett has been trying to get bi-partisan support for the bill.

"I sent a letter to everyone in the Senate asking if they wanted to co-sponsor this," Stennett said Tuesday. "This is a non-partisan issue and I'm looking for bi-partisan support."

Any body politic within a 50-mile radius of a proposed coal-fired power plant would be invited to join the discussion, he said, as would members of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, and others.

Stennett has also sponsored a bill proposing a 15-month moratorium on applications for coal-fired power plants.

He introduced it as a "personal" bill, which bucks the traditional Senate process of presenting a request to the State Affairs Committee for the bill to be printed.

"I'm not leaving this to chance," he said. "This circumvents the committee process."

Another bill Stennett plans to introduce today would keep mercury emission standards as they are: at zero.

"That would short circuit whatever the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality would do," he said.

The state was considering joining a national "cap and trade" program for mercury emissions, which among other things would have raised the limit for such emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The IDEQ is taking a wait-and-see approach to the matter following the Environmental Protection Agency's announcement that they are reviewing aspects of the program.

Stennett, however, is not waiting for an EPA announcement.

The District 25 senator also wants to require merchant power plants, those that can sell power on the open market, to be centrally assessed the same way public utility plants are.

Idaho's laws relating to the power industry were enacted before deregulation, Stennett said, and need to be updated to reflect the current energy environment.

Merchant plants didn't exist before deregulation so state laws don't address their effects, he said.

"Because our laws haven't kept up, there's a hole in Idaho law that allows counties to get the tax benefits," Stennett said. "If Jerome County didn't have the huge enticement, they would make their decision (to approve or deny the plant) based on merits other than (tax revenue)."

"If Idaho Power were building it, all the revenue would go to the state and apportioned among counties and whoever is served by Idaho Power," he added.

He also introduced Thursday a personal bill that would provide for out-of-county notification to any county adjacent to one in which a coal-fired power plant is proposed.

Besides requiring legal notification to be published in local papers in surrounding counties, the law would give legal status to adjoining counties' residents.

Neighboring residents would be able to testify in front of county commissioners and could legally protest if they feel due process was violated.

"It gets other residents heard, and gives them standing to take the county to court," Stennett said.

"This is very much a regional issue," he said.

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Expand study area

Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson asked the City Council on Thursday, Jan. 19, to consider a letter requesting that the Jerome County Commission expand the power plant study area to include Blaine County. The request for consideration of the power plant matter included a suggestion to solicit the support of Blaine County and its jurisdictions on the matter.






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