March 12 2009 12:00 AM

Official says BWL will take second look at energy plan, but coal isn’t off the table.

A top official at Lansing’s Board of Water and Light says the utility needs to “look again” at its energy plan, which includes building a new coal-fired power plant, because of fast-breaking economic and regulatory changes.

However, George Stojic, BWL’s executive director of strategic planning and development, said an alternative energy plan drawn up by opponents of a new coal plant is “not feasible” because it would be too costly.

From the grass roots to high office, pressure against new coal plants is ratcheting upward. In an interview Thursday, Stojic cited a new President, new committee chairs in the U.S. House and Senate and last week’s State of the State address by Gov. Jennifer Granholm as reasons to rethink the utility’s energy mix.

Last week, Granholm called for a statewide 45 percent cut in fossil fuel use by 2020.

“That’s a very aggressive plan,” Stojic said. “When we originally put our plan together, we weren’t anticipating that.”

“But whether 45 percent is doable is another issue,” he cautioned. “That is a major achievement.”

To meet the goal, Stojic said the utility would pursue an aggressive energy efficiency program and look into burning more biomass at its proposed plant, among other options.

The proposed plant would burn “up to 30 percent biomass” — or waste wood and similar materials — according to last summer’s BWL announcement.

But Granholm also ordered the state Department of Environmental Quality to “evaluate … all feasible and prudent alternatives” before green-lighting any new coal plants.

“The plant we wanted to build was fueled by coal as well, so that’s going to have an impact on us,” Stojic said.

The DEQ order, Stojic said, might add “3 or 4 months” to the processing time for three coal plants now pending in Michigan.

“A lot can happen in those 3 or 4 months, including legislation out of Washington on greenhouse gases,” Stojic said.

The feds are expected to move this year toward capping or taxing the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. If “allowances,” or permits to emit greenhouse gases, are auctioned off rather than given out for free, the cost of coal could rise further.

President Obama, U.S. Rep Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the new chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, all support strong greenhouse gas limits.

Closer to home, the uncertain fate of General Motors, BWL’s largest customer, has placed BWL’s projection of 1.4 percent growth in energy use into question.

“When they’re down for even a month, it has a major impact on us, and they were down in January,” Stojic said.

With all this in mind, Stojic said the utility will re-evaluate its Integrated Resource Plan, but he isn’t yet sure whether it will be tweaked, amended or scrapped.

“We need to circle back and take a look at that forecast,” Stojic said.

An alternative energy plan proposed by Lansing Can Do Better, a coalition of citizens and organizations opposed to the proposed coal plant, got mixed reviews from Stojic.

The plan, nicknamed “Plan B” by its proponents, includes stepped-up yields from energy efficiency and conservation programs.

“I like this part,” Stojic said. BWL plans to launch an energy optimization plan this year. (“Optimization” covers both efficiency and conservation.) Stojic said the program would be “aggressive, very substantial, and far more aggressive” than the present one.

However, Stojic found fault with “Plan B’s” reliance on renewable energy sources. He predicted that renewables would not suffice to fill the hole in supply left when the Eckert power station closes in 2017.

“This is not a feasible plan,” he said. “Solar is just too expensive and takes up way too much space.”

That leaves wind, Stojic said.

“Plan B” proposed backing up fickle renewables with energy from gas turbines. But Stojic said if the BWL relied on wind for baseload generation, it would have to go on the open market and buy double backup power: enough juice to back up the wind plus a 13 percent reserve capacity mandated by federal law.

“For every renewable megawatt you put up there, you’ve got to get another megawatt of something else: coal, gas, or nuclear,” he said. “You’re buying two units instead of one.”

Stojic ticked off the priority of BWL’s goals in this order: reliability, low cost, and preserving the environment.

“Every time I use a resource option that costs more than necessary, I’m reaching into somebody’s pocket and grabbing money,” he said.

“If your goal is something else — to not generate any more emissions if you can possibly avoid it — then you get a different plan.”

He gestured toward the screen, with “Plan B” displayed.

“We go with this plan, we pay more than we need to,” he said. “There’s a societal cost. It means taking teachers out of classrooms, policemen off the streets.”

BWL Citizens’ Advisory Panel

3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 12 Foster Community Center, Room 213

Open to public