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Alaska editorial: Progress, maybe: Healy power plant permit moves forward

Posted: February 10, 2012 - 1:13am

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

The state’s decision last week to grant an air quality permit to restart the Healy Clean Coal Plant was an encouraging step toward eventually reducing the electricity bills that have been stinging Interior residents.

However, no one should install electric heaters at home in anticipation of success any time soon.

The permit still could be challenged in both administrative and legal proceedings. In fact, most people involved expect that will be the case. So it could be years before the Healy plant starts generating juice.

The Environmental Protection Agency had until Jan. 13 to block to the state’s decision to issue the air quality permit for the 50-megawatt power plant. It did not do so. That could indicate that the federal agency’s previous objections to the state’s proposal have been addressed adequately.

The problem is what happens now. Even if the EPA does not object, any organization or individual who commented earlier on the air quality permit application has the right to petition the agency to review the permit again. If that result is not satisfactory to the petitioner, the dispute could go to court.

Meanwhile, we’re all stuck paying the bills for burning oil to generate our electricity.

Coal might be a pariah to some, but it doesn’t deserve all the abuse it gets. It produces somewhat more carbon dioxide and releases more of certain pollutants, compared to oil, but neither are immediate health hazards. The economic harm to Interior residents from high electricity prices probably translates to far more direct health problems, as people put off care because of a lack of money to pay for it.

Golden Valley Electric Association and the state need to keep pushing to restart the plant. It’s a shame it has taken so long, with untold millions of dollars invested with nothing to show.

Electricity might never again be cheap enough to heat our homes with it. But it could be much cheaper than it is today. Anyone burning oil for any purpose today is paying a premium. We need to move to alternatives.

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