Nearly 150 citizens turned out to a Planning Commission meeting yesterday in Midland to express concerns about the proposal by Dynegy/LS Power to build a coal-fired power plant.
Usually the stuff of the announcement section of the local paper, the planning commission meeting was anything but boring. Citizens expressed their concerns and asked questions about the proposed coal plant until midnight - so long that many left long before they had a chance to ask their questions. Many expressed concern that opponents of the proposal were not allowed to speak until well after 10:00 p.m.
"I was pleased that the people of Midland finally woke up to the fact that our city is seriously considering allowing an out-of-state coal giant to tie us in to a dirty, dangerous, bad investment for the next 50 years" said Midlander, Allison Wilcox. "I thought it was a bad joke at first, but now I know it's serious. I am very concerned that Dynegy, LS Power, and some decision-makers are trying to push this thing through without addressing the very serious concerns that were brought up tonight and making sure everyone gets heard."
Following a national trend, as the public has become more aware of the proposal, opposition has grown. With the prospect of coming carbon legislation, a nationwide coal rush began. Over 150 new coal plants have been proposed across the country. Dynegy has drawn national attention by leading the way with more proposed coal plants than any other company in the nation. To date however, 64 of those proposals have been defeated or abandoned. In Michigan, seven coal plants have been proposed despite a lack of demonstrated need. In fact, the Michigan Public Service Commission is currently reviewing and revising its years-old assertions of growing energy need.
Those who had a chance to ask questions addressed issues ranging from public health, to the environment, the economy, transportation, waste management, the impact on the community, and the idea of a 50-year marriage to coal.
"Over 60 communities across the country have rejected these proposals. The costs of coal are rapidly rising and the opportunities for investing in renewables are being seized all across the country. Why is the 'City of Modern Explorers' rushing us back to the 19th century?" asked Nancy Janoch, making reference to the cities former tagline. Despite several requests for more time or more hearings at more reasonable hours, the site plan will likely be voted on in two weeks.
"The issues that were raised here tonight are serious and many were not addressed. There is no way the commission can possibly give this due diligence in just two weeks. None of the questions were rhetorical", said Daryl Zelenak of MidlandCARES. He submitted a list of over 100 questions that the group said needed to be answered. "That is in addition to the hundreds of questions that didn't get asked because people couldn't stay until midnight on a Tuesday night."
With hundreds of unasked questions, hundreds of questions unanswered, and the uncertainty of the effects of legislation that will be completed in the next few months, many in attendance requested that the commission simply slow down.
"Dynegy and LS Power claim that they care about the concerns of this community. They deny vehemently they are rushing this through. The commission is charged with protecting the health and future of Midland. It is in the best interests of all involved to slow down", said Zelenak who requested a delay in the vote. "It is in the best interests of all the folks who didn't get heard tonight. It is in the best interest of the city to properly consider the proposal before making a 50-year multi-billion dollar commitment. It is even in the best interest of the shareholders of Dynegy and LS power to slow down and wait to know what the real costs of a plant like this will be."
Though the group is hopeful that the commission will do the right thing, they vow to continue on regardless of the outcome. Just last week, a similar proposal in Missouri was "postponed indefinitely" only two days after getting final regulatory approval. Associated Electric Cooperative, Inc. is instead investing its $2B in renewables. In its decision, AECI cited cost increases similar to those of the Midland proposal. Those cost increases, coupled with the decision by the Rural Utility Service to suspend funding for new coal projects made the plant economically unfeasible. Based on uncertainty due to climate change and rising construction costs, the federal agency recently decided to suspend loans to new coal projects.
"Clearly coal projects like this one are rapidly becoming things of the past. The nation is turning against coal and towards renewables" said Zelenak. "If the city won't take the communities concerns seriously, we'll keep fighting to make sure we aren't rushed into making a dangerous 50-year mistake. Until the first shovel goes into the ground, we will keep fighting."
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