Nov. 12 2008 12:00 AM

BWL moves its coal-plant citizens-panel sessions to nighttime

Those opposed to the Board of Water and Light’s proposal to build a new coal-fired power plant in the Lansing area could get their way if the citizens advisory panel, a group charged with determining the feasibility of a coal plant, keeps making decision like this: The panel has decided to move its meetings to weekday evenings because of complaints from the public.

Frank Kelley, co-chairman of the panel and a former Michigan attorney general, said the decision was made to hold the meetings at night after some complained that they weren’t able to make it the previous meetings, which were being held on weekday mornings.

“It’s to accommodate more people from the public,” Kelley said.

On the meeting’s agenda is a summary of past comments from the public, a panel discussion — which Kelley said would review findings regarding the environmental impact of a coal plant — and a section for public comment.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13, at the Ingham County Health Department, 5303 S. Cedar Street in Lansing.

Bethany Renfer, a member of the anti-coal plant group Lansing Can Do Better, wrote a letter to the editor to City Pulse this summer taking issue with the inconvenient times at which the advisory panel meetings were scheduled.

Reached Monday, Renfer said that the rescheduling of the meetings is a step in the right direction.

“Certainly it’s a sign of progress and more from the general public will be able to attend,” she said.

Sarah Schillio, another member of Lansing Can Do Better, also lauded the panel for changing the time of the meeting. But while that is a step in the right direction, she said, she still believes the panel needs to decide against building a coal plant.

“I think it’s great that (the panel) is starting to listen to folks,” Schillio said. “Hopefully they’ll continue to take input from folks on the issue.”

The “issue,” of course, is the coal-fired power plant. BWL announced in May that it wanted to build a 350 mega-watt plant to replace the Eckert power plant. The plant would run on fuel 70 percent supplied by coal and 30 percent supplied by biomass. The BWL would also plug the plant into carbon dioxide sequestering technology, if it were ever feasibly developed.

The citizens advisory panel was set up by the BWL to study the feasibility of building a new, mostly coal-fired plant and to gain input from the company’s shareholders, which is anyone who subscribes to its services.

BWL has said that its plant needs to run on coal, at least partially, to meet energy demand at a reasonable cost. Opponents see a coal plant as a waste of resources compared to new “green” energy technology.

“We’re damaging ourselves with the coal-fired plant,” Renfer said. “There are major job opportunities in renewable energy. Even the president-elect is saying that renewable energy is going to play a major factor in the job market.”