Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Assembly adopts power plant ordinance

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Monday, August 27, 2007

PALMER—Even small amounts of mercury threaten fish egg survival. A stand-alone, small scale coal-fired power plant isn't economically attractive. The Regulatory Commission of Alaska doesn't consider user rates on a new power plant until after it's built./p>

Such testimony at a Tuesday work session from federal and state experts on air, water, soil, and fish, among other subjects, is what helped convince the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly to pass an ordinance that regulates power plants. The vote was five to one. Organizations like the American Lung Association of Alaska and Mark Foster & Associates added to the extensive information.

Keeping salmon around is where the MAT-SU Borough's ordinance on power plants stands apart from other regulations. Matt LaCroix, with the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, testified about the sensitivity of mercury on fish eggs. While minute quantities of mercury may not threaten human health, they do threaten salmon egg survival, he said.

Specialists from state and federal agencies agreed the Borough's soil and water resources are already at a tipping point. Acidity levels are naturally high without the influence of potential emissions. High acidity kills crops and fish, experts said.

The power plant ordinance is the first of its kind for a local government in this state. As with the Borough regulations on coal bed methane, the MAT-SU is breaking trail again in order to offer local protections that higher agencies don't offer.

Assembly member Cindy Bettine said Matanuska Electric Association members have no one looking out for their electricity rates if the Borough doesn't step in.

"There was a whole section I was considering striking and I was thinking that really wasn't our job," Bettine said. "But after I found out the Regulatory Commission doesn't act on the economics of rates ... until after a coal plant is built, it gave me great concern, not only for my own electrical bill but for the Borough's. We're probably the biggest user of electricity."

The Borough spends more than $3 million per year, on electricity, including its schools.

The Borough ordinance is a land use ordinance, which is one of the Borough's mandatory powers: to provide for land use planning and regulation. It requires that a permit be obtained from the Borough before locating, building, or operating a power plant. The application requirements address issues such as location n, construction, land use, air and water quality, human health, noise, hazardous materials handling, geological hazards, traffic, and transportation.

Matanuska Electric Association (MEA) proposes two 100-megawatt plants, one coal-fired, the other natural gas, to be located outside Palmer.

Assembly Member Michelle Church said the 3.5 hour work session showed her the gaps in protection.

"What I heard the agencies say was that there isn't adequate protection within the current framework of DEC (state) and EPA (federal). It's appropriate for local government to take on this kind of regulation," Church said. "We took the lead on CBM (coal bed methane regulations) and we ended up with a responsible producer who is in the process of going through a process that was described as 'oh so onerous'. We have to stop being reactive. We have to start being proactive," Church said.

"Which is what we're doing tonight," said Assembly Member Mary Kvalheim.

Assembly Members Tom Kluberton and Deputy Mayor Lynne Woods both said the amount of public comment has been overwhelmingly in support of the Borough adopting an ordinance.

"Granted it's new for the power plants," said Woods. "I hope it will insure our air continues to be clean, our water won't be impacted, and we can still eat the fish."

For more information contact Borough Manager John Duffy at (907) 745-9689.