Pondering power after Bush

I spent the last week gallivanting about in southern Utah, an always enjoyable region in which to get done some quality (1) hiking, (2) gawking, and (3) sleeping, if nothing else (certainly not beer and wine drinking, which is still a little weak behind the Zion Curtain). While there, I picked up a copy of the Four Corners Free Press of Cortez, Colo.

The April issue had a story about how Dine Power, a Navajo organization, and its partner, Sithe Global Power out of Houston, have filed a suit against the EPA. The tribe and Sithe want to build a gigantic coal-fired power plant, called Desert Rock, on the reservation, and they’re suing in order to jump-start the agency to make a decision on its air permit application. The Desert Rock backers filed for that permit back in 2004, and they say the EPA had one year and no longer to make the call. For some reason, the feds have been dragging their feet, and the Desert Rockers now must sue to force the issue.

This massive plant would cost $3 billion to construct, have an output of 1,500 megawatts, and it would emit at least 12 million tons of greenhouse gases a year.

Gee, it all sounds very familiar. So, OK, what is the latest on the proposed Ely Energy Center, a huge new coal plant to be built by Sierra Pacific and its southern counterpart, Nevada Power? Well, not a whole lot. Sierra Pacific recently said that it won’t seek final regulatory approval this year, but maybe next year or maybe 2010.

In case your memory needs refreshing, the two utility giants want to build the E.E.C. just north of Ely, the big town in White Pine County. The stars of the complex would be a couple of gigantic, “clean” coal-burning colossi that would fire up least 1,500 megawatts and at least 12 million tons of greenhouse gases a year. Scheduled to be online and operating by 2013, at a cost of at least $3 billion, but probably more like $5 billion. As you might suspect, lots more negotiation and lots more hassling is bound to take place between now and then.

Want more coal squabbles? They’re pretty easy to find. In Kansas, for example, the Democratic governor there, Kathleen Sebelius, just vetoed a bill to build … you got it … a couple of giant coal plants.

Back to the Desert Rock plant, which goes on to say, “opponents of the plant are happy to see time go by, hoping that if a Democrat captures the White House in November, Congress may pass legislation that would require a tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Such a tax would almost surely spell the end for Desert Rock.” Probably wouldn’t do wonders for the Ely Energy Center, either.

The beat goes on. And it’s fair to ask and wonder, in the year 2020, what will be the juice that powers that beat?