The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 15, 2011

New life for 600-megawatt coal-burner

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

ROGERS CITY – Wolverine Power Cooperative ’s proposal to build a $1 billion coal-burning power plant is up and running again, its resurgence made possible by a June 29 letter of approval for the project by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

There are still no guarantees the plant will be built. The state gave Wolverine 18 months to study power market conditions, construction costs and other factors to let them determine if their proposal still makes economic sense.

“We’re very pleased with the (MDEQ) decision,” said Wolverine Power spokesman Ken Bradstreet. “It’s an important milestone in our attempt to build this facility. Now we have a lot of work to do assembling information, and to make the decision about whether this is the right alternative for us.”

The 600-megawatt plant was proposed several years ago to be built in an old quarry. The construction boom and permanent jobs that would be created were widely anticipated in the economically challenged northeast Lower Peninsula.

But loud, coal-hating environmentalists and an enabling Granholm Administration put the kibosh on the plant in May 2010. The governor’s Department of Environmental Quality determined that there was no need for the facility to be built – they said the electricity it would produce could be obtained from other sources.

Wolverine appealed the MDEQ’s verdict before Missaukee County Circuit Court, and the judge ruled that the state overstepped its authority. When Gov. Rick Snyder came into office in January, he said he supported construction of the plant. The state declined to appeal the judge’s ruling. And six months later, G. Vinson Hellwig, Chief of the Air Quality Division, informed Wolverine of the good news.

“This permit application was originally denied by the MDEQ on May 21, 2010, due to a failure to demonstrate a need for the facility,” Hellwig wrote. “This decision was subsequently challenged by Wolverine and in its Opinion and Order dated January 28, 2011, the Missaukee County Circuit Court ruled that the alleged lack of need for the facility alone, separate from air quality concerns, is not a legal basis to deny the permit application.

“The facility satisfies the air quality requirements the MDEQ is to apply to Wolverine’s permit application pursuant to the Circuit Court’s Opinion and Order.”

Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin said the MDEQ’s ruling “is about jobs, plain and simple. Leaders in this state talk over and over about creating jobs, and over the past three years we’ve had a huge potential jobs producer sitting right in our lap. Now let’s hope that Wolverine will find that construction of the plant is still a viable option.”