Coal plant foes lose court ruling

OKLAHOMA - The Oklahoma Supreme Court turned back an effort to stop a set of regulatory hearings on a proposed $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant.

The decision came after the conclusion of hearings over the proposed 950-megawatt power plant to be built near Red Rock. In a one-sentence decision, the court denied an application by Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. and the Quality of Service Coalition, a group of Oklahoma business and municipalities, requesting the court to assume original jurisdiction in the case.

The court did not comment on the merits of the case.

"We are disappointed in the decision, but that doesn't detour us from moving forward," said Lee Paden, an attorney for Chesapeake and the Quality of Service Coalition. Both parties will continue to oppose the plant, he said.

The petitioners filed the application in June, calling the hearings at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission unconstitutional. Under state law, the OCC, the state agency that regulates utilities, can determine whether the electricity produced by a proposed power plant is needed by ratepayers.

If the OCC determines that the power is "used and useful," utilities may ultimately be able to recover the costs associated with the construction of the plant through their rates. The petitioners contend that the Oklahoma Constitution does not give the commission the power to approve a power plant in advance or to interfere with the internal operations of a public utility.

Chesapeake, the largest producer of Oklahoma natural gas, has been a fierce opponent of the Red Rock power plant, which is billed as the largest project of its kind in the nation. The company has mounted a campaign against the plant, buying newspaper advertisements and circulating letters protesting the facility.

Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake chairman and CEO, appeared before the commission and urged it to stand on the "right side of history" and oppose "dirty coal". Administrative Law Judge Maribeth Snapp, who oversaw the hearings on the Red Rock plant, will issue a recommendation to the commission on Aug. 21 before the commission makes a final decision.

The "ultra supercritical" plant, which is heralded as a cleaner alternative to traditional coal plants, is a joint venture between American Electric Power-Public Service Company of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. - the state's largest electricity providers - and Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority. Stan Whiteford, a spokesman for AEP-PSO, said the commission is the proper venue for the hearings.

"We were expecting this outcome," he said.


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