March 26 2009 12:00 AM

Former BWL commissioners come out against new coal plant plan.

Some more coal — perhaps biomass — was shoveled last week onto the Board and Water and Light’s plan to build a new mostly coal-fired plant to replace the aging Eckert Station near downtown.

Four former BWL commissioners sent a letter March 3 to J. Peter Lark, the utility’s general manager, and other local government leaders urging the withdrawal of the almost year-old plan to build a new coal plant. BWL has already recalled the plan for more study.

In their letter, Ronald Callen, Gary Calkins, Nancy Wonch and Joseph Graves Jr. urge an entirely new plan that will factor issues that have arisen since the plan was released last summer. The commissioners want BWL to consider the sour economy — including whether the General Motors Corp., the utility’s largest customer, will still be around to use as much power — recent state and national political moves against coal and, in general, the threat coal poses on the environment.

“We made pretty clear that there are a lot of issues that have to be looked at again — before they really make a decision,” Callen said of the letter.

But, the former commissioners’ suggestions aside, this is a pretty safe time to come out against the plan. At the Feb. 13 meeting of the BWL citizen advisory panel, which had been evaluating the coal plant plan for several months, George Stojic, the utility’s executive director of strategic planning, asked for three months to go back and revise the plan. Since then, Lark himself has said that the utility has to go back to the drawing board.

Callen said the ideas in the letter reflect a consensus among the four that now is not the right time for a new coal plant. He said that when the plan was released, he had many questions about it.

“It was so much money, and the continued use of major amounts of coal,” Callen said. “I was wondering if there weren’t alternatives to their decision.”

The letter’s specific suggestions include: waiting until the federal stimulus plan makes an impact on the economy, including allowing for construction costs to become more reasonable; making sure that energy conservation is a top priority; considering Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s Executive Order 2009-2 directing the state Department of Environmental Quality to make sure all feasible options are exhausted before more coal plants are built; and considering that the Obama administration and Washington legislators are driving hard at reducing carbon emissions.

BWL spokesman Mark Nixon said
that he didn’t know whether Lark or Stojic had seen the letter, but he
reiterated that plans for a new coal plant are paralyzed for now.

said that something would have to be done. Eventually people will again
start buying plasma screen televisions, and plug-in electric cars might
soon be available — and the energy to power those devices will have to
come from somewhere. And it probably won’t be wind, solar or nuclear.

isn’t surprising that the former commissioners would say we ought to
stop and reconsider,” Nixon said. “This debate is going to go one for
some time.”