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Citizen Groups: Reject New Rogers City Coal Permit

Unneeded plant would be costly to customers, state economy, public health

April 20, 2011 | By Jim Dulzo
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  Coal burning is America‚Äôs most common and most polluting electricity.

Citizen groups representing tens of thousands of Michiganders who support transforming their state’s crippled manufacturing sector into a clean-energy world leader are calling on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to reject Wolverine Power Supply Co-Operative’s proposed Rogers City coal plant draft air pollution permit.

MDEQ issued the new draft permit last week, after a state court ordered it to reconsider its original denial of a permit last year. MDEQ has set May 19, 2011 at 7 p.m. at Rogers City High School for a public hearing to receive comments about the new draft permit.

Members of the Clean Energy Now Coalition warn that the dirty, unnecessary plants would hike electricity rates by 60 percent in north and central Michigan, where poverty, unemployment, and the cost of living rates are sky high, and saddle small co-ops there, who own Wolverine, with a huge, multi-generation debt.

“Wolverine has already spent well over $22 million to sell this bad, outmoded idea, and still refuses to disclose where that money is going,” said Sue Harley, of Clean Water Action. “The company is throwing away lots of its members’ money on a wasteful dream that will drain pocketbooks and damage our Great Lakes with mercury and other toxics.”

Anne Woiwode, of the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter, added: “People in northern Michigan cannot afford this coal and pet coke plant. Not only does the company not need it, much cheaper, cleaner alternatives are readily available.”

MDEQ first turned down Wolverine’s proposal last May, saying the co-op had no need for it and warning that it would raise customers’ average monthly bills by $70. This February a state court ruled DEQ could not base its permit denial on need and ordered a prompt reconsideration.

But the court also said that if DEQ’s denial had directly tied Wolverine’s clear opportunity to use other, cleaner options—efficiency, wind and other clean energy options—to better protecting air and water quality, it would have been legal. 

“MDEQ’s refusal to use its authority to reject unnecessary degradation of air quality is very unfortunate for the utility’s customers, public health, and efforts to build a clean-energy economy,” said Shannon Fisk, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “As Consumers Energy recently discovered, new coal power is now more expensive than new wind power, and this decision points us in the wrong direction.”

CEN members are pressing Wolverine to reconsider its five-year-old plan, which has not been revised even  as other American companies have cancelled more than 150 coal plant proposals due to their severe financial risks, which convinced investment firms that new coal is a bad financial bet.

“Wolverine has given no indication that it is seriously considering cheaper, cleaner alternatives,” noted Wayne Vermilya, Allis Township resident. “When is this company going to face reality, and use efficiencyand renewables to give its customers and the environment a much better deal?”

The Michigan Land Use Institute is a member of the Clean Energy Now coalition. Reach him at jimdulzo@mlui.org.

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