Town Debates Coal Power

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Utility officials have rejected a proposed 50-year deal to buy wholesale-priced power from a proposed coal-fired power plant in Utah.

The vote by the Truckee Donner Public Utility District board of directors Wednesday night came after ratepayers and renewable energy advocates testified that Truckee should not be supporting an energy-generating system that contributes to global warming.

The rejection will force the 12,000-customer utility to buy power on the open market at prices utility staff members say will be twice what the Utah power would have cost them.

District officials said rejecting the Utah power likely would raise customer rates by 30 percent.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., both wrote letters urging the board to reject the Utah project, and the San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee and National Public Radio all weighed in with stories about the proposed contract, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported on its Web site.

Renewable energy advocate Paul Vercruyssen, who testified against the contract, said the vote attracted so much attention because it represented a microcosm of a national dilemma: How to balance the need for cheap energy with growing concerns over global warming.

"When I drove up from Sacramento, it was raining on Donner Summit," Vercruyssen, a spokesman for the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology in Sacramento, said.

"It's winter. It should be snowing. And if the people who live here aren't willing to do something about making sure it keeps snowing, who is?"

Although district managers urged the five elected members of the board to support the contract with the Utah consortium - a group of
40 communities in six states - only board member Tim Taylor ultimately did.

Board members Pat Sutton and Bill Thomasson criticized utility staff members for not doing more to explore adding renewable energy sources to the utility's portfolio and investing more in conservation efforts.

Thomasson said the coal-fired power prices were artificially low because of government subsidies and worried the district could face
buying itself out of the contract if the power plant project failed in some way.

He noted the district still is paying off a $26 million buyout to get out of a power contract in 2003.