As goes Ohio?

So goes the nation, or at least that's the old saw.  Last night I drove up from our office in Columbus, Ohio, to Oberlin (a truly charming town) for a City Council meeting about whether Oberlin should sign-up with American Municipal Power-Ohio to help fund the construction of a 960 megawatt pulverized coal power plant.  The Oberlin hearing (the second of three meetings the City will hold before making a final decision) is the first of over seventy similar hearings in small towns and big cities across the state.

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Constructing a 1,000 megawatt pulverized coal plant will, of course, be terribly polluting.  AMP's own permit application will emit almost 7,000 tons of sulfur dioxide a year (the chemical that causes acid rain); over 1,000 tons of particulate matter a year (linked to asthma and other lung disease); and over 7 million tons of carbon dioxide a year (the primary gas that causes global warming).

The terms of the contract, which will last for 50-years, are also pretty onerous for the various cities involved.  According to AMP (no link available), as a "take or pay" contract:

Participants agree that, in order to obtain power and energy from the Power Sales Contract Resources, they are willing to pay for their respective rights to that power and energy at rates sufficient to enable AMP-Ohio to recover all of its costs incurred with respect to the AMPGS Project.  The Participants are obligated to take or pay for their respective PSCR Share whether or not the Power Sales Contract Resources are complete, operable, or operating.” 

                                                  Source: AMP Feasibility Study, page ES-19

In other words, every city and town that signs-up with AMP will be responsible for completely financing the cost of building the plant and guarantee to "take" a set amount of power from AMP for the next 50-years (unless they can find somebody else to buy it), "whether or not" the plant is "complete, operable, or operating." 

When you realize the enormous uncertainties connected with constructing power plants these days (costs have risen by 25% to 30% in the last 18 months alone, and AMP's cost estimates have nearly doubled since late 2005), and add to that that very real possibility that AMP's clients will end up footing the bill to control each of the 7 million tons of carbon that the plant will emit, this starts to look like less and less of a good deal.

That's especially true because alternatives, like investing in energy efficiency, combined cycle natural gas, and alternative energy generation like solar and wind are available.  In fact, Oberlin has a great track record in investing in alternative energy already.

But the last thing Ohio (or America, or the world for that matter) needs is to keep constructing conventional coal-fired power plants that pollute our air and exacerbate global warming.  NRDC's Midwest Program is tracking dozens of proposed coal power plants across the region and is weighing in with cities like Oberlin asking them to choose cleaner, greener, and more responsible sources of power.

UPDATE:  The City Council voted again last night and approved executing the contract with AMP by 4 - 3.  Although discouraging, the vote represents real progress (previously, there were only two Council votes in opposition).  Luckily, AMP's contract allows Oberlin to withdraw, without penalty, anytime before March 1, 2008--so the debate is far from over.  In the coming months we'll be asking Oberlin to reconsider its 50-year commitment to dirty power.