Concerns about coal's future

MEIGS COUNTY, OHIO - Westerville has become the first of 92 member-communities to reject the prospect of long-term ownership in a coal-fueled power plant proposed for Meigs County along the Ohio River.

Led by Westerville City Councilman Craig Treneff, council members shared numerous concerns about the project before voting it down 5-1. Treneff cited growing resistance to coal as an energy source, stating, "I don't want Westerville to be on the wrong side of environmental choices 20 to 30 years from now."

The proposal from American Municipal Power of Ohio would have locked the city into a 50-year contract with the utility to fund a new power plant, in return for rights on the power it produces. The plant, expected to begin operating in 2013, would have provided about 40 percent of Westerville's nonpeak electricity.

But the deal would have required the city to make monthly payments, regardless of how much, if any, energy the plant produced.

"I think it's a very wise decision. It's an extremely risky plant that could cause a lot of public health and environmental damage," said Sandy Buchanan, executive director of Ohio Citizen Action, after the vote.

AMPOhio President Marc S. Gerken quickly left the meeting and didn't respond to requests for a comment. Kent Carson, spokesman for AMPOhio, said Westerville's vote shouldn't influence other member communities who have yet to vote before a Nov. 1 deadline.

"They (Westerville) didn't say it was a bad project," Carson said. "They said it was not good for Westerville."

Treneff called the risk "impossible to quantify. I can't take a 50-year risk, not being able to predict that far ahead."

Councilwoman Kathy Cocuzzi also pointed out that, within 50 years, other energy sources might be an option. She suggested that the city might offer incentives to residents who use solar or geothermal heat sources.

"The only thing I'm committed to for 50 years is my marriage," she said.

The only proponent was Councilman Bill Highfield, who said that council should have supported the decision of the city-hired energy consultant to accept the deal.

"We have a responsibility to the people of Westerville to provide them with as stable of a financial future as is possible. If we can save them over a million dollars a year, I think that's pretty decent."

The average yearly rate savings has been about $70 per resident, he said.

Councilwoman Anne Gonzales said she doubted that AMPOhio would have been able to construct the plant in a timely manner. Since 2004, and the end of a long-term contract with American Electric Power, Westerville's power costs have risen sharply. This has prompted suggestions that the city get out of supplying power all together.

But Council Chairman Damon "Chip" Wetterauer praised the city's electric division, citing several infrastructure projects it has helped to fund.

"Make no mistake about it," he said, "the electric division is not for sale."


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