Co-op makes coal debate a local issue

America’s electric cooperatives are working hard to tell their story: Without coal to generate electricity, “every American” will face higher energy prices.

Missouri’s junior U.S. senator, Roy Blunt, R-Springfield, has been making the same argument for months, saying in an Op-Ed piece Wednesday in the online “St. Louis Beacon” that the federal government’s “war on coal” through Environmental Protection Agency rules “is really just a war on consumers.”

But also this week, the national Sierra Club praised the announcement of plans to “retire” a coal-fired plant in Massachusetts by 2017 as “a significant milestone in the ongoing campaign to move the country beyond coal no later than 2030.”

The Sierra Club also said in its news release: “According to the Clean Air Task Force, retiring these 150 coal plants will help to save 4,000 lives every year, prevent 6,200 heart attacks every year and prevent 66,300 asthma attacks every year.

“Retiring these plants will also avoid $1.9 billion in health costs.”

One of those plants the Sierra Club is celebrating is the Central Electric Power Cooperative’s Chamois power plant, closed last month in part because of what Central Electric called “the ever-increasing clean air regulations mandated by the federal government.”

Central Electric’s CEO and general manager, Donald Shaw, told about 60 community and business leaders at the Osage County Community Center on Wednesday that the use of coal and hydropower are the least expensive options to generate electricity.

“Affordable electricity is essential to every American and every small business,” Shaw said, according to a news release about the meeting issued by the Linn-based Three Rivers Electric Cooperative. “We need your help to encourage common-sense solutions.”

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, and Rep. Tom Hurst, R-Meta, talked about Missouri’s current low energy costs, and how they must remain affordable in order to keep and attract new business.

And Barry Hart, executive vice president and CEO of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives, said it’s imperative for each and every Three Rivers member to send an e-mail to the EPA, asking the federal agency to make sure we continue to have clean, affordable and reliable electricity.

“There is a lot at stake here. We can make a difference,” Hart said.

Blunt argued that nearly 40 million American families “earning less than $30,000 a year already spend almost 20 percent of their budgets on energy costs. By putting in rules that would, basically, ban the construction of new coal plants, the EPA is punishing our nation’s most vulnerable families who suffer the most from bad energy policy and higher utility bills.”

Blunt wondered why “the Obama administration wants to effectively ban new coal plants ... when coal is cleaner than ever.”

Before 2012, he said, sulfur dioxide emissions were at 77 percent per megawatt hour (MWh), and nitrous oxide emissions were 82 percent per MWh.

“By 2015, they will be down to 25 percent (sulfur dioxide) and 11 percent (nitrous oxide) per MWh,” Blunt said.

And, Blunt noted, the EPA has admitted its rules will raise costs.

“When EPA issued a proposed New Source Performance Standard in March of last year, it said if someone wants to build a coal plant, that operator must install carbon capture technology — which, by EPA’s own admission, would ‘add 80 percent to the cost of electricity,’” Blunt wrote.

“An 80 percent increase to the cost of a coal plant would be prohibitively expensive, especially at a time when the country needs high-efficiency coal plants to replace those closing due to other costly EPA rules.”

But Verena Owen, a veteran Sierra Club volunteer, said in that group’s news release: “Our coalition of environmental, conservation, public health and civil rights groups has achieved a milestone that few thought possible. ...

“Through grassroots activism and the power of passionate Americans across the country, we are telling the dirty, outdated and deadly coal industry that enough is enough.”

Correction, posted Oct. 12, 2013: The CEO and general manager of Central Electric Power Cooperative was incorrectly identified in the original version of this article. The error has since been corrected in the text above.

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