The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 10, 2009

Granholm relaxes stance on power plant permits

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - It seems the looming 50th Legislative Conference of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council - and the arrival into town of a number of angry union delegates - prompted a change of heart by Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

A March 31 deal brokered between state building trades leaders, Granholm and Lt. Gov. John Cherry on the day before the conference started, led to what appears to be a softening by the Granholm administration on state requirements for coal plant construction.

During her State of the State speech in February, Granholm shocked the building trades and the state's utilities by announcing a rule change in the permitting process for coal-burning power plant construction in Michigan. She added another level to the process by ordering the state Department of Environmental Quality to examine whether the state even needs at least four new planned coal-fired plants, if other "greener" alternatives might be moe appropriate.

On April 1, Cherry was the first speaker to talk to the conference of Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council delegates. A candidate for governor next year, Cherry told delegates that at a meeting the day before with himself, Granholm and the building trades, an agreement emerged for the state to alter and ease the permitting process.

Cherry said utilities applying for new plant permit applications will now be asked only to submit a "carbon reduction strategy" to the state Department of Environmental Quality, and to apply, presumably from the federal government, for pollution controlling carbon reduction technology grant money if it becomes available.

"That's why I went to bat for you, to make sure the process got back on track," Cherry told delegates. "If they (the utilities) apply for a permit, they will get a permit. It's that simple," Cherry added.

Granholm's stance outlined in her state of the state speech was certainly done with a nod to environmental groups. But the result of her announcement was to at least delay and possibly put at risk some $9 billion in clean coal plant construction. On hold were various state permits for plants in or near Bay City, Holland, Midland and Rogers City. Cherry said the revision to Granholm's plan "doesn't slow up the process one iota."

Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Chief Elected Officer Patrick Devlin said the trades would maintain a "wait and see attitude."

"Although construction on these plants wasn't imminent in the sense that they would start with shovels in the ground this summer, long-term they amounted to our own statewide stimulus program," Devlin said "We were blindsided and had no idea where she was coming from when she put a hold on all those desperately needed construction jobs."

Said Council President Patrick "Shorty" Gleason: The governor's change in direction is most welcome, and we appreciate Lt. Gov. Cherry's help in getting this turned around. But we're still a little wary and we're going to wait to see how this shakes out."

A new coal-fired plant on the grounds of Consumers Energy's Karn Weadock facility near Bay City is the closest to groundbreaking, with a start date that has been pushed back from the end of 2010 to mid-2012 following the governor's state of the state announcement. Consumers Energy Vice President Jim Pomaranski told delegates the utility is still "assessing the impact" of the governor's new directive.

DELEGATES ATTENDED the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council's 50th Legislative Conference, April 1-2 at the Radisson Hotel in Lansing.