Los Angeles' 'coal free' vow scuttles Utah power-plant expansion

Plans for a new coal-fired power plant in central Utah were canceled after the city of Los Angeles -- the plant's biggest power purchaser -- signaled its intention to be "coal free" by 2020.

The Intermountain Power Agency -- a political subdivision of the state of Utah co-owned by municipal and rural electric cooperatives -- has dropped plans to build a proposed third 900-megawatt coal-fired generating unit at the Intermountain Power Plant near Delta, Utah.

"The project has been abandoned," IPA spokesman John Ward said yesterday.

The decision came after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced last week that the city -- which purchases about 45 percent of the IPA's power -- wants to end its use of coal-fired power by 2020. Villaraigosa said that the city will replace its coal-fired electricity with energy from renewable sources, natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric power.

"We were in a permitting and preliminary planning stage, and some of the expected partners determined that it wasn't going to match up with their resource objectives," Ward said.


Environmentalists praised the decision and said they expect similar projects to follow suit.

V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies in Sacramento, Calif., said the cancellation of the unit indicates a changing perception of coal-fired power.

"It reflects a changing need of power customers, increasing awareness of the dirty footprint associated with coal, and a strong desire to pursue a new, cleaner direction," White said.

Environmentalists have fought the proposal since shortly after the Utah Division of Air Quality issued an air permit for the project in 2004. The Utah chapter of the Sierra Club filed an appeal with the Utah Air Quality Board, but the board refused to hear the appeal. The Utah Supreme court agreed in 2006 to allow the appeal to go forward, but the appeal was never heard because the process was stalled due to inactivity by the plant's owners.

The Sierra Club hailed the decision to abandon the plant, saying it marked the 100th plant to be prevented or abandoned since 2001.

"At the beginning of the coal rush in 2001, it seemed inevitable that as many as 150 new proposed coal plants would get built," said Bruce Nilles, director of the organization's Beyond Coal Campaign. "Since then we've seen an incredible change in the way people, businesses and governments -- like Los Angeles -- are thinking about energy, figuring out how to generate and use it more cleanly and efficiently. Coal is no longer a smart or cost-effective option."

Los Angeles, one of the principal owners of the plant's units 1 and 2, announced in 2007 that it did not support the construction of the third unit at the plant. PacifiCorp and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems sued the city, alleging a breach of contract, but that suit was recently dismissed.

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