A draft ordinance that would regulate where a power plant could be built and how it operates was introduced tonight at the joint meeting of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly and Borough Planning Commission. A public hearing is set for July 12 before the Planning Commission.
During the Borough's annual budget process this spring, several residents appeared at public hearings asking the Borough to take some form of action on a proposed coal-fired plant. Among the concerns: the only proposed sites for the power plant were next to where people live and recreate in a valley where emissions could linger. Coal power plants are a known major source of air and water pollution as well as health hazards in the U.S.
Assembly Member Tom Kluberton directed administration to draw up an ordinance that would guide the location n, construction, and operation of a power plant while mitigating potential negative effects on public health and the environment. Assembly Member Bill Allen supports the ordinance as a sponsor.
"Numerous constituents expressed disbelief that no significant public process is guiding the project," Kluberton said. "Just as local government offered protections to residents during the specter of rampant coal bed methane development three years ago, it's up to local government again to give residents a voice, this time on a 100-megawatt coal plant."
Assembly Member Mary Kvalheim said she has received numerous emails and phone calls. "They feel they aren't being heard. They asked us to protect their homes and property, their futures, their gardens."
Borough administration researched regulations from other communities nationwide, drawing upon 13 main sources. The work done by The California Energy Commission in April 2007 was looked to as a model. The Borough's 71-page draft ordinance also draws on emission standards put forth by the American Lung Association. The ordinance provides a process to help ensure that the proposed power generation project has undergone thorough fact-finding in determining the best alternatives and location n for power generation.
The ordinance applies to power plants that are 50 megawatts and greater, including geothermal and natural gas. The proposed site is in Assembly Member Allen's district. "The utility company needs to provide more public participation before making the final decision. It also must explore other options such as a tri-party merger with two utilities in Anchorage," Allen said. The proposed ordinance does not set limits on emissions. Regulating emissions is the job of the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, and the FERC, Federal Energy Regulatory Control.
The proposed ordinance does not prevent construction of a power plant, but it does ensure that relevant information be a part of the decision-making process for the location n and operation of the proposed plant. It asks that impacts and mitigations be identified. Coal-fired power plants emit sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, particulates, and mercury. Such pollutants have profound effects on public health by increasing the incidence of cancers, increasing the susceptibility to respiratory illness, and affecting fetal development. Depending on design and fuel, a power plant may harm fish habitats if nearby streams and rivers rise in temperature.
"We want affordable energy that is generated without major impacts to public health or the environment," Duffy said. "The proposed site is close to a hospital and an airfield. That may not be the best place to locate."
The proposed permit requires a $1,000 fee and that the applicant pays the cost of an independent consultant who works under the direction of the Borough to review the application. Such a request is standard for projects that could be controversial and have a far-reaching effect on the public. The Borough Planning Commission will be the first to consider the proposed ordinance. A public hearing before the Planning Commission is July 12 at 6 pm in the Assembly chambers in Palmer. The Borough's powers to enact such an ordinance are established in code under air pollution control and water pollution control among other chapters.