Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Planning Commission passes draft power plant

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Thursday, December 06, 2007

PALMER—The Planning Commission for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough passed a draft ordinance on power plants tonight. Commissioners voted 4 to 3 to support an ordinance that regulates where a power plant could be built and how it operates.

Two amendments were approved. The first lowers the power generating capacity that would trigger a requirement for the ordinance. The Planning Commission lowered a 50 megawatt requirement to 20 megawatts. The second amendment removed cities from exemption, so any power plant that generates 20 megawatts of energy, even in a city, would be required to obtain a Borough permit, if the draft ordinance is ultimately adopted by the Assembly.

Twenty-one people testified before the Planning Commission Tuesday night. About 16 spoke in favor of the ordinance. Written comments included 74 people supporting the ordinance and five opposed. Among the top written concerns: 29 percent worry about the environment; 21 percent are concerned about public health; and 14 percent were uneasy with public process.

Local electric utility, MEA, has proposed building a 100-megawatt coal-fired power plant outside Palmer. Recently, a different developer has proposed a 70-megawatt natural gas power plant also near Palmer.

MEA's spokesman Tuckerman Babcock told the Planning Commission that complying with the ordinance would cost the utility $1 million. Vice Chair Dianne Woodruff asked what the top three questions of the ordinance were that made it so costly to MEA. Babcock said he had not had time to review the ordinance and could not answer that.

The draft ordinance does not regulate emissions.

"It does not preclude a coal-fired power plant," said Vice Chair Woodruff. "It simply supplies lots of questions that need to be answered before it's allowed."

Planning Commission Chair Helga Larson voted against the ordinance. She said she did not have time to read all the comments.

Commissioner Ken Klunder said, he too, was concerned about the pace at which the draft ordinance is moving. "But we have to get something out there," Klunder said. "The things we're asking for are things that affect the community and I don't believe these questions have been answered. I understand a utility wants to produce power at the lowest price, but there's also a price to the community."

A public hearing is set before the Assembly next Tuesday, July 17.

For more information call Borough Manager John Duffy at (907) 745-9688 or Acting Planning Director Sev Jones at (907) 745-9856.