Rocky Mountain Power disputes HEAL Utah’s claims of pollution from coal-burning plants

rocky mountain power pollution coal burning plant

ST. GEORGE – Earlier this month, HEAL Utah claimed that Rocky Mountain Power was on the road to exposing Utahans to higher energy costs and posed a threat to the environment and health of the state. Rocky Mountain Power denies the accusations.

HEAL Utah, an environmental advocacy group, issued a press release on Sept. 8 in which it claimed that Rocky Mountain Power was ignoring the impact its coal-burning facilities would have on the environment and the company’s own customers.

According to Dr. Brian Moench, an anesthesiologist and president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, PacifiCorp, Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company, “is not telling Utahans anything about how much the pollution from their coal-burning plants costs in terms of lung decease, asthma, hospital admissions, lost days on the job and other health impacts.”

Each year, public utility companies like PacifiCorp are required to present an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) to the Utah Public Service Commission for approval.  The purpose of an IRP is to provide a comprehensive outline of how the company plans to utilize its resources in the most cost effective manner over a specific period of time. Concerns over the risks and uncertainties that come with electrical generation are also addressed.

According to PacifiCorp’s website, “the IRP is developed with considerable public involvement from state utility commission staff, state agencies, customer and industry advocacy groups, project developers, and other stakeholders.”

When PacifiCorp presented its IRP to the Utah Public Service Commission for 2007, HEAL Utah stated that the commission directed PacifiCorp to do a better job of informing the public about potential health impacts and the costs of its operations, particularly coal-burning for power generation.

HEAL Utah said that PacifiCorp did not address these concerns in its latest IRP.

HEAL Utah also stated that pollution produced by coal-burning power plants is responsible for over 300 asthma and respiratory emergency room visits, as well as 200 premature deaths.

“The harm caused by pollution from coal-burning plants has huge costs that the utility simply passes on to the public,” said Arthur Morris, an energy analyst with HEAL Utah. He claims that PacifiCorp keeps its rates low by forcing Utahans to make up the difference when it comes to treating health problems caused by pollution.

Other allegations HEAL Utah made are that coal-produced energy is uneconomical. According to a Harvard School of Public Health study that HEAL Utah cited, the overall cost of using coal stand at around 18 cents per kilowatt-hour – three times the costs that Utahans pay for their electricity.

“Rocky Mountain Power disagrees with the conclusions of the study cited by HEAL Utah,” said Margaret Oler, a spokeswoman for Rocky Maintain Power.

Together with a broad spectrum of Utah business stockholders, Oler said that Rocky Mountain Power reviewed the cited study and found “enough concerns with the assumptions used in the study’s analysis to determine that its results should not be relied on.”

Oler further stated that the utility “cares about energy efficiency and renewable energy. We welcome a robust discussion that includes all the facts and implications for our energy future.”

As for the 2007 IRP, PacifiCorp complied with the Utah Public Service Commission’s order to do better about supplying the desired information to the public, she said.

Oler said that the commission concluded that PacifiCorp’s plan for analyzing environmental impacts was reasonable.

Thus far, the issue of incorporating health impacts into the 2011 IRP has not been brought up by the Utah Public Service Commission.

When it comes to the question of how Rocky Mountain Power sees the environment, Oler said that the company “continues to add wind, natural gas and conservation measures to its energy portfolio, while improving the environmental performance of its existing generation fleet.”

“No organization has done more than Rocky Mountain Power to make electricity from renewable sources available to Utah customers,” she said.

Rocky Mountain Power also sports a variety of energy efficiency programs, she said. Through participation in these programs, such as Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky program, Oler reported that Utah costumers saved more than 218 million kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2010. This amount is equivalent to the annual power output of 42 commercial-scale wind turbines.

Rocky Mountain Power is also the second largest utility in the United States that utilizes wind-generated power.

Oler added that all of Rocky Mountain Power’s coal-burning plants meet all environmental regulations. The utility also assesses the growing energy needs of its customers, and chooses “the least-costs, least-risk options available within existing state policies.”

For people who have concerns over Rocky Mountain Power’s approach to power generation and commitment to energy efficiency, Oler invites them to participate in the public process that helps produce the company’s IRP.

Related Links:

HEAL Utah: http://healutah.org/.

Rocky Maintain Power: http://www.rockymountainpower.net/index.html

PacifiCorp IRP information: http://www.pacificorp.com/es/irp.html

mkessler@stgnews.com

Copyright 2011 St. George News. This material may not be published or rewritten without written consent.

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