Archive for November, 2009

OEC and Ohio Environmental Law Center hail AMP decision to halt dirty coal plant

Decision belies myth that dirty power is cheap power

In a statement, AMP revealed it will abandon its plans to build a 960 MW coal plant near Letart Falls in Meigs County. According to the statement, the company said the change in course was the result of an unexpected 37 percent increase in the cost to build the 1,000-megawatt plant, which was last estimated at $3.25 billion.

The Ohio Environmental Council is hailing the announcement today by American Municipal Power-Ohio (AMP-Ohio) that it has cancelled plans to construct a proposed 1,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant on the Ohio River in Meigs County.

Ever-growing costs doomed the plant, as cost projections grew from $2.5 billion just two years ago to close to $4 billion, today.

Statement by Trent Dougherty, OEC Staff Attorney and Director of Legal Affairs:

“AMP-Ohio’s wise decision belies the myth that coal power is cheap power. Financial institutions, major utilities, government regulators and public power organizations across the nation have come to the conclusion that conventional coal makes little sense economically or environmentally. Today, that realization came to American Municipal Power (AMP) as AMP has abandoned plans to build yet another coal plant.

“We are pleased that AMP-Ohio has concluded that dirty power is bad business. Now, AMP Ohio can get back to the business of doing what it does best — being a leader in renewable energy and energy efficiency in this state.
“For years, we and our allies have presented data to AMP executives, to utility and environmental regulators, and to dozens of city governments that would be stuck with the bill for this plant, projecting that this old-fashioned coal plant was burdened with unknown costs to consumers and unsubstantiated risks to our environment. Years ago, AMP-Ohio’s plant and rationale for building it may have made sense, but the regulatory landscape has fundamentally shifted.”

The OEC, along with its partners Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club are in litigation over this plant, appealing air and water pollution permits issued last year by Ohio EPA. The coal plant was slated to burn at least 2.8 million tons of coal and each year release the following air pollution each year: up to 6,820 tons of sulfur dioxide, 3,194 tons of nitrogen oxide, 1,182 tons of particulate matter, 343 tons of sulfuric acid mist, 166.87 tons of volatile organic compounds, 880 pounds of lead, and 192 pounds of mercury.

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As we’ve seen for months now, Ohio’s landmark energy efficiency and renewable energy law—S.B. 221—is not going to mean much unless it is enforced. Right now, we’re still trying to make sure that electric utilities are required to meet the energy efficiency benchmarks established by the law. S.B. 221’s benchmarks, codified at R.C. Section 4928, require utilities to implement programs designed to achieve energy savings of 0.3 percent for 2009.

But even though this requirement is clear on the face of the law, FirstEnergy is trying to avoid the benchmark requirements for 2009, arguing that it cannot meet them due to extenuating circumstances beyond its control.

The law does allow a utility to seek a waiver of the benchmark requirements if it can prove that it “cannot reasonably achieve the benchmarks.” But we think it’s clear that FE has not met this standard, nor has the company made a good faith effort to comply with this part of the law. (For example, one of FE’s efforts to comply with the efficiency benchmarks was its notorious CFL program, a program that was poorly planned and widely criticized from the start.)

If we let utilities avoid the law’s benchmarks, it could set a very bad precedent at the PUCO and threaten the effectiveness of Ohio’s advanced energy and energy efficiency standards.

Ohio is SO CLOSE to being a national leader in clean energy! We’re going to stay vigilant at the PUCO to make sure that the law is enforced and that Ohioans reap the benefits of S.B. 221.

Click here to view the docket in the case, which has not been set for hearing.

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Click here to see the video coverage of our presentation at Ohio Northern University’s Pettit College of Law.

We spoke about the work of the Ohio Environmental Law Center and, more generally, about the importance of non-profit legal work. Great to talk to law students who are interested in the work of the Ohio Environmental Council, the OELC, and in non-profit advocacy.

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The OELC will be in Ada, Ohio tomorrow to talk about to law students about opportunities in non-profit environmental law. We will discuss the Ohio Environmental Council’s role as both the legal advocate for OEC and as the leading leading advocate for Ohio’s environment.

The event will be held at Ohio Northern University’s Pettit College of Law at 12:00 PM. Come out to hear about the OELC and our big plans for the future.

See an article announcing our visit in the Ada Herald.

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The OELC, along with the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel and several other consumer and environmental advocates, has just signed a settlement agreement with AEP Ohio—signing off on the company’s plan to comply with the efficiency and peak demand reduction requirements established by S.B. 221. The plan has been filed and is now awaiting approval by the PUCO.

AEP’s plan involves public education about how to save energy and incentives for businesses to under take more efficiency programs. S.B. 221 requires utilities to implement energy efficiency programs to meet than annual efficiency benchmarks established by the law. The energy efficiency achieved by AEP’s plan alone could result in a net loss of 6 million tons of CO2 between 2009 and 2011.

The most impressive numbers though may be the cost-benefit figures: a $162 million cost for an estimated $630 million in savings for customers.

This a good plan, and AEP should be applauded for moving quickly to implement the requirements of S.B. 221. But there’s still a lot of work left to do to enforce S.B. 221–and to ensure that Ohio reaps the economic and environmental benefits of the law. The OELC will continue to keep a close watch to make sure other utilities fully comply with Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable laws.

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Don’t forget about OEC’s annual dinner and cocktail event–the Green Gala–this Saturday at 6:00 PM at the Columbus Athenaeum. 

It’ll be a great chance to meet the OELC staff and other environmental attorneys as well as to learn about our current cases and our big plans for the future!

For ticket information, click here.

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Funding is essential for cleaning AMD – but Ohio still needs to clean up its act regarding  Reclamation Bonding program

Acid mine drainage (AMD)  from Ohio’s unreclaimed coal mine sites has been Southeastern Ohio’s number one environmental and human health concern for decades. While laws passed in the 1970’s now require mining companies to return mined land to its original contours and to restore water quality, large piles of coal refuse have been left behind from previous strip mining.

However, thanks to increases in essential funding to pay for cleanup, coal country waters in Ohio will soon flow clearer. Ohio received $8.4 million in 2009, and will see, additionally, an expected $200 million over the next twelve years, to fund legacy coal mine cleanup projects in 27 counties in Ohio. Read the full story from today’s Dispatch.

The increase in funds will provide Ohio Department of Natural Resources (“ODNR”) with the resources it needs to restore the 36,000 acres of land damaged by underground and strip mining and the 1,000 miles of streams that have been polluted by sulfuric acid, dissolved metals and sediment that leach from old mines.

“Watershed groups in Appalachian Ohio, in conjunction with ODNR, have done exceptional work cleaning up our rivers and streams with a shoestring budget; the additional federal funding will galvanize the great work already being done.” Said Trent Dougherty, Director of Legal Affairs at the Ohio Environmental Council and Director of the Ohio Environmental Law Center.

However, federal dollars are not enough to solve all of Ohio’s coal mine woes. According to the United States Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (“OSM”), for more than 25-years Ohio has been unable to demonstrate that its alternative coal industry bonding system provides for timely reclamation of forfeiture sites, and this is attributable to insufficient bond and or inadequate revenue to support reclamation. Accordingly, OSM has initiated against Ohio its §733 process which requires the Ohio coal program under the ODNR to amend its program to be in compliance with federal laws and regulations or OSM will withdrawal approval of the state program.

Ohio needs to quickly fix these problems with bonding program, just to get up to the federal “floor” of minimum regulation under SMCRA. OELC would like to see a trend toward full cost bonding of coal reclamation.

The state uses  a so-called “alternative bonding system” that allows mining companies to post lower, site-specific bonds tied to a particular mining operation and pay into a statewide bond pool that, in theory, would cover the difference between the lower bond and the amount needed to reclaim the mine site and treat pollution discharges in perpetuity.

Under full cost bonding, mining companies, NOT taxpayers, are required  to come up with a way to guarantee more money to cover all the environmental damage they cause.

“ODNR should be working to bring the program into compliance, as requested by OSM, with or without the support of Coal Industry Lobby. While the division has made strides in the current administration, the end, we feel is in full cost bonding.” Dougherty added.

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