April 25 Op/Ed on LS Power Public Meeting
The Op-Ed below just appeared in the Waterloo Courier. A few corrections and clarifications: LS Power has been invited to several and welcome at all community meetings. Their representatives have repeatedly refused to meet with local residents. Local officials have claimed that citizen meetings are "not informational" and somehow illegitimate because they are convened by concerned citizens, not by the developer. This seems to us entirely backward.
A few factual points: IGCC has higher capital costs but lower operating costs, not higher capital and operating costs as the Op/Ed has it. And LS Power/Elk Run Energy Associates has not yet filed an application for a certificate of need with the Iowa Utilities Board. All they've filed is a notice of public meeting.
Power plant meeting must address broad public concerns
LS Power has set a time and date for a long-awaited public informational meeting regarding its proposed $1.3 billion coal-fired power plant east of Waterloo that may answer many questions that have arisen since the project was announced last December.
Elk Run Energy Associates, an affiliate of New Jersey-based LS Power, proposed the meeting, which will be May 11 at 6 p.m. at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center in downtown Waterloo. Representatives from the Iowa Utilities Board will preside over the session, and several employees of LS Power will field questions from the public.
Robert Colozza, project manager for LS Power, said the meeting will have more of an open-house format rather than a panel with a question-and-answer session. Stations will be set up regarding various aspects of the project, such as general information and environmental impact.
That may do much to advance knowledge of the project, but a full public airing of the proposal still needs to take place.
To this point, LS has limited its discussions to small group sessions. On the other hand, one-sided community forums have been held to discuss concerns about the plant --- without LS's participation --- raising a lot of questions and heat, but not generating many answers.
This is too important a project to leave vital questions unanswered.
At $1.3 billion, it would be the largest single economic development project in the history of the Cedar Valley.
The plant would require 1,200 construction workers during a four-year period at a total payroll of $200 million. It would employ 100 people at an annual payroll of $7 million --- an average of $70,000 per permanent employee. LS Power would hire a private firm experienced in power plant operations to staff and run the facility. The plant would pay about $2 million a year to the city, county and Dunkerton schools in taxes.
However, environmental concerns also weigh heavily, such as the emission control system and the disposal of the fly ash. The impact on the local infrastructure also has to be in the mix, including the frequency of coal delivery by rail on grade-level tracks with trains that even now temporarily divide Waterloo.
No doubt, LS Power officials have heard about the petitions, the forums and a recent rally. Some objections may seem to have little merit --- that the power generated probably will not be used locally --- but others hit home. People want assurances that the quality of the air and the local landscape will not be adversely affected.
The United States has abundant coal resources, and the need for greater energy independence is becoming more obvious daily. Coal is part of that equation. The Department of Energy has had more than 100 proposals for new coal-fired plants --- mostly in the Rockies and upper Midwest.
The state of environmental technology for "pulverized" coal plants has improved tremendously during the past 30 years. In that regard, it's important to know what emissions controls are planned in Waterloo. It apparently won't happen here, but even some environmentalists have become enamored with the possibilities of coal gasification, which significantly reduces the potential for pollution. Yet it's a new and expensive process with higher capital and operating costs.
LS Power's first priority has been to get its application before the Iowa Utilities Board. That has happened. Now it's time for the company to lay its proposal before an audience at a public forum.
LS Power would be well advised to include a formal public presentation on its project at the May 11 meeting. The "open house" format is a good opportunity to answer questions one on one. However, this is an undertaking with the potential for an enormous impact on the community, and residents need to be able to weigh the potential positives and negatives. Neighborly chats alone won't allay the broader concerns.