Thursday, July 8, 2010

PSC analysis: Holland coal plant expansion unecessary: Cheaper and more efficient options available (hey, where have I heard that before?)

The Michigan Public Service Commission on Wednesday issued an analysis of a proposed coal-fired power plant expansion in Holland. Because the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) plant is a municipal utility, the Commission does not regulate it, so its report is, I suppose, advisory in nature.

But the analysis essentially says what proponents of energy efficiency and renewable power have been saying for years: There are cleaner, cheaper and more efficient options than coal-fired power plants.

Power providers have been lighting coal on fire to turn turbines for more than a century. It’s difficult to break that ingrained mindset. “This is the way we’ve always done it” is a powerful and lazy rationale for any organization. Additionally, companies make no money by helping customers SAVE energy, a powerful disincentive for energy efficiency programs that are the cheapest, cleanest and fastest way to meet energy needs.

But each new analysis, study and business plan that incorporates a better way adds a little more pressure for the utilities to change. We can all do our part by voting for elected officials who support that change, and speaking out whenever we can in favor of sensible and pragmatic alternatives to setting dangerous, expensive stuff on fire to turn turbines.

You can read the report, which is long and wonky. Or you can read the following quick and dirty summary provided by Anne Woiwode of the Sierra Club's Michigan Chapter:

- HBPW failed to “adequately demonstrate the need for the proposed facility” for a number of reasons. “Under-estimating the potential impact of energy efficiency in future years, coupled with an overly optimistic load forecast results in a projected capacity need which may not fully materialize.”

- Analysis of options and scenarios were very limited: “Scenario analysis should be employed across a wide range of variables and sensitivities including: future load levels, fuel prices, renewable energy penetration levels, energy efficiency penetration levels, and other variables which impact future resource planning in order to properly evaluate the associated risks.”

- Alternative ways of meeting their power needs exist, and in fact “Other less costly alternatives were noted in the EGAA and could be selected to meet HBPW’s expected capacity shortfall, if so desired.” These included purchased power, combined cycle natural gas, energy efficiency, and renewables.

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