Reuters U.K.  [Printer-friendly version]
January 15, 2008


[Rachel's introduction: Citizen activists are aggressively opposing
new coal plants, with some success, but unless they can stop carbon
capture and storage (CCS), the coal industry will prevail. CCS is Big
Coal's "ace in the hole" and the effort behind it is huge. Read
more about CCS here.]

By Eileen O'Grady

Houston (Tex.) -- Environmentally-minded coalitions are working
overtime to block construction of all new coal-fired power plants in
the United States after a "watershed" year in 2007 when plans for
dozens of coal units were delayed or scrapped, said one

After years of limited success against power-plant construction,
concerned groups were buoyed last year by action in California and
Florida to restrict imports of power produced from coal. Coal
generators release about 40 percent of U.S. emissions of carbon
dioxide, a gas blamed for global warming.

Even more supportive was a Kansas ruling that denied permits to build
new coal units by Sunflower Electric.

"Kansas was a major, major victory," said Bruce Nilles, director of
the Sierra Club's national effort to block coal plants. "In 2008, we
will really begin to act on stopping the majority of these coal

State regulators in Montana Friday rejected a request from
environmentalists to require a cooperative to install the same
controls on CO2 -- which is not regulated in the U.S. -- as it plans
use on regulated pollutants at a new coal plant, but the fight is far
from over, said Abigail Dillen, an attorney with Earthjustice.

Dillen said the group will appeal a decision by the Montana Board of
Environmental Review in favor of the 250-megawatt Highwood plant
proposed by Southern Montana Electric. Highwood is also being
challenged in federal court over its long-term funding source, the
U.S. Rural Utilities Service, Dillen said.

In Georgia, an environmental group said it would appeal last week's
ruling to uphold issuance of an air permit for Dynegy's 1,200-MW
Longleaf coal plant.

While opponents said developers did not thoroughly evaluate the
plant's impact on air quality, Dynegy spokesman David Byford said its
joint venture with LS Power builds generation based on the needs of
utilities that will buy the power.

"We're going with the technology that we believe our customers are
asking us for," said Byford.

In Arkansas, local landowners plan to appeal last month's regulatory
ruling to grant a certificate of need to a unit of American Electric
Power Co to build a 600-MW coal plant in Hempstead County. An appeal
will be filed this month at the Arkansas Court of Appeals, said Little
Rock attorney Chuck Nestrud.

In Kentucky, a coalition, including the Sierra Club, the National
Parks Conservation Association and others, has notified the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency that it may file a lawsuit after that
agency failed to act on a petition opposing Peabody Energy's 1,500-MW
Thoroughbred coal plant in Muhlenberg County.

While the strategy differs from state to state, the groundswell of
opposition to coal projects grew steadily in 2007, said the Sierra
Club's Nilles.

"We're seeing a lot of action on the state level on a scale we've
never seen before that is really taking the market away from the coal
industry by requiring a certain amount of generation to be from
renewables," such as wind and solar power, Nilles said.

New coalitions combine traditional environmentalists, local
landowners, religious groups and elected officials.

"It is now a broad cross-section of people who say we need urgent
action on global warming," Nilles said. "The first thing we need to do
is not dig the hole any deeper" with new coal plants.

Building new coal plants locks the country into a supply of carbon-
intensive power and may hurt investment in renewable technology and
efforts to increase efficient use of power which can slow the growth
in demand for new generation, he said.

Utilities and the coal industry argue that new coal plants can operate
with lower emissions than are needed to guarantee a reliable source of
future power generation. (Editing by Marguerita Choy)


Reno (Nevada) Gazette-Journal
January 14, 2008

Coal plants boom, opponents take action

By Matthew Brown, Associated Press Writer

Billings, Mont. (AP) -- In federal and state courtrooms across the
country, environmental groups are putting coal-fueled power plants on
trial in a bid to slow the industry's biggest construction boom in

At least four dozen coal plants are being contested in 29 states,
including Nevada, according to a recent Associated Press tally. The
targeted utilities include giants like Peabody Energy and American
Electric Power down to small rural cooperatives.

From lawsuits and administrative appeals against the companies, to
lobbying pressure on federal and state regulators, the coordinated
offensive against coal is emerging as a pivotal front in the debate
over global warming.

"Our goal is to oppose these projects at each and every stage, from
zoning and air and water permits, to their mining permits and new coal
railroads," said Bruce Nilles, a Sierra Club attorney who directs the
group's national coal campaign. "They know they don't have an answer
to global warming, so they're fighting for their life."

Industry representatives say the environmentalists' actions threaten
to undermine the country's fragile power grid, setting the stage for a
future of high-priced electricity and uncontrollable blackouts.

"These projects won't be denied, but they can be delayed by those who
oppose any new energy projects," said Vic Svec, vice president of the
mining and power company Peabody Energy.

While observers say forecasts of power grid doom are exaggerated, the
importance of coal -- one of the country's cheapest and most abundant
fuels -- is undeniable.

Coal plants provide just over 50 percent of the nation's electricity.

They also are the largest domestic source of the greenhouse gas carbon
dioxide, emitting 2 billion tons annually, about a third of the
country's total.

Environmental groups cite 59 canceled, delayed or blocked plants as
evidence they are turning back the "coal rush." That stacks up against
22 new plants now under construction in 14 states -- the most in more
than two decades.

Mining companies, utilities and coal-state politicians promote coal in
the name of national security, as an alternative to foreign fuels.

With hundreds of years of reserves still in the ground, they're also
pushing coal-to-diesel plants as a way to sharply increase domestic

The outcome of the fight over coal could determine the nation's
greenhouse gas emissions for years to come, said Gregory Nemet,
assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Wisconsin.

"It's pretty much irreversible," Nemet said. "Once a coal plant is
built, it will last 50 years or so."

But in opposing coal projects across the board, environmentalists risk
hobbling more advanced coal plants that could rein in at least some of
those emissions, Nemet said. He added that rising demand for
electricity means more power "has to come from somewhere."

"There's too much pressure -- in terms of energy independence and the
inexpensiveness of that resource -- to not use that coal," Nemet said.

One of the latest challenges to a utility came in the heart of coal
country -- Montana, which boasts the largest coal reserves in the

On Friday, a state panel refused to rescind an air-quality permit it
had granted for a plant proposed for the Great Falls area by Southern
Montana Electric, despite concerns about the plant's carbon dioxide
emissions. The 250-megawatt plant is projected to emit the equivalent
of 2.8 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, as much as a half-
million vehicles.

The Montana Environmental Information Center, which had asked the
panel to review the permit, vowed to appeal the ruling.

Nilles said the Sierra Club spent about $1 million on such efforts in
2007 and hopes to ratchet that figure up to $10 million this year.

Meanwhile, coal interests are pouring even more into a promotional
campaign launched by the industry group Americans for Balanced Energy
Choices. It spent $15 million last year and expects to more than
double that to $35 million in 2008, said the group's director, Joe

Funding for the group comes from coal mining and utility companies
such as Peabody and railroads that depend on coal shipments for a
large share of their revenues.

Peabody's Svec acknowledged a rush to build new plants, but denied the
goal was to beat any of at least seven bills pending before Congress
to restrict carbon dioxide emissions -- a charge leveled by some

Rather, he said, the construction boom is driven by projections that
the country will fall into a power deficit within the next decade if
new plants are not built.

Industry attorney Jeffrey Holmstead said that could lead to a future
of rolling blackouts as the economy expands and electricity
consumption increases. Holmstead was in charge of the U.S.

Environmental Protection Agency's air program during the first five
years of the current Bush administration.

The power deficit cited by industry officials is based on projections
from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. NERC vice
president David Nevius said his group is "neutral" on what kind of
plants should be built to meet rising demand.

"We're not saying the lights will go out. We're just saying additional
resources are needed," Nevius said. "We don't say coal over gas over
wind over solar."

Utilities currently burn more than 1 billion tons of coal annually in
more than 600 plants. Over the next two decades, the Bush
administration projects coal's share of electricity generation will
increase to almost 60 percent.

That projection held steady in recent months even as courts and
regulators turned back, delayed or asked for changes to plants in at
least nine states.

Other projects in Utah, Texas, Wyoming, Florida and several other
states have been abandoned or shelved.

Some were canceled over global warming concerns. Utilities backed off
others after their price tags climbed over $1 billion due to rising
costs for materials and skilled labor.

Environmental opposition to coal plants was galvanized by a U.S.
Supreme Court decision in April that said carbon dioxide is a
pollutant open to regulation.

The case, Massachusetts vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
involved vehicle emissions. But environmentalists aim to use the
decision as a fulcrum to leverage regulators to take a harder line on
greenhouse gases in several emerging power plant disputes.

The result could serve as an early barometer of the reach of the
Supreme Court ruling.

More tests of the two sides' arguments are certain. Industry groups
say at least 15 coal-fired power projects are nearing the end of the
approval process and could soon start construction.