Coal plant backers still fired up about prospects

SOUTH DAKOTA - Even though the incoming president has said he doesn't like coal-fired power plants due to environmental concerns, Walworth County boosters are still optimistic such a plant will be built there.

Basin Electric Power Cooperative of Bismarck, N.D., says its preferred site to build a $2 billion, coal-fired electricity plant is near Selby.

"It is a concern, but not a huge concern," Gary Steuck of Mobridge, chairman of the North Central Power Plant Task Force, said of President-elect Barack Obama's concerns.

Once Obama sees all the facts and all the needs, "he is going to moderate his position," Steuck said.

Obama's pre-election talk of bankrupting coal-fired plants might have been just rhetoric, he said.

"Sometimes things like that change after you win an election," he said. "And we do believe it is going to change. From our standpoint, we are still extremely optimistic. So many things are happening and continue to happen."

The permit process continues for Basin, which is still spending money on the 2,360-acre site for the NextGen plant about three miles west of Selby. The Western Area Power Administration continues working on the plant's environmental impact study, said Daryl Hill, a Basin Electric spokesman.

"Sometime the wheels turn agonizingly slowly. But they are turning," he said.

Hill said Basin is working with a New Hampshire company on technology that captures carbon dioxide from emissions, although it's not known if the technology is viable yet.

Steuck said there are slivers of hope even in the recession because the cost of steel and some other raw materials is coming down.

Plans call for construction to start in 2010, with up to 1,700 workers. The plant could start producing electricity four years later. Coal would come from Wyoming's Powder River Basin.

Basin says NextGen would get its water from the Missouri River through 13 miles of new, underground pipe that's not part of the WEB Water Development Association's system.

Basin Electric still needs South Dakota Public Utilities Commission approval.



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