The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 11, 2010

State finally pulls plug on Wolverine plant

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING –The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment on May 21 made it official: they denied Wolverine Power’s permit for a proposed $1 billion, 600-megawatt clean-coal power plant in Rogers City.

For months rumored to be dead in the water – the plant has been opposed by a green movement whose philosophy has been embraced by the Granholm Administration – the Wolverine plant was officially killed off under the headline of a state press release, which read, Unnecessary plant far too expensive for Michigan ratepayers.”

“We are protecting hundreds of thousands of Michigan homeowners, businesses, and farmers from paying a whopping increase in their electric bills, which would have been among the highest in the nation,” Gov. Jennifer Granholm said. “The cost of doing business in Michigan would have skyrocketed, and despite the short-term gain from its construction, this project would have been a job-killer and a roadblock in our efforts to bring new economic development investments to Michigan.”

The Michigan Public Service Commission determined that power from the plant would have increased electricity rates paid by average residential customers by 59.2 percent. But Wolverine Power spokesman Ken Bradstreet told the Alpena News, “In regards to the number, it’s totally fictitious. If it were to cost that much – anywhere near that much – we’d never build the plant.”

Last year, Granholm asked analysts at the MPSC to see whether there was a need for the proposed Wolverine facility and if there were alternative methods of meeting customer demand. The governor also asked the DNRE to consider the MPSC analysis as part of its air permit review process, which it said was consistent under its duties under state law.

The DNRE ultimately determined that Wolverine had not adequately demonstrated a need for the new plant, claiming that sufficient power could be created from existing sources.

The Rogers City plant was denied despite having received $2.7 million in federal grant money to build an unique underground carbon capture system. Had Michigan’s DNRE signed off on the coal plant by March 31 this year, Wolverine would have received $147 million more federal money.

The creation of desperately needed construction jobs was also not enough to sway state regulators or the Granholm administration. The state’s argument that higher utility rates would result from construction of the plant comes late in the process. Previously, the primary arguments against construction had revolved around perceived need for the energy and potential harmful emissions.

“Governor Granholm’s decision to deny Wolverine Power’s air permit for a new power plant in Rogers City is a blow to Michigan’s economy and prevents northern Michigan from helping to establish the state as a leader in new energy technologies,” said Congressman Bart Stupak, a major proponent of constructing the plant. “This project was an opportunity to create much-needed jobs in northeastern Michigan and meet Michigan’s energy needs, while remaining consistent with the goal of producing cleaner energy.

“The most direct and immediate result of denying this permit is the loss of an estimated 2,800 construction, supply and operations jobs that would come with the project. It also signals a continuation of Michigan’s reliance on inefficient power plants with high rates of pollution constructed 40 to 50 years ago.”

State Representative Andy Neumann told AlpenaNow, “The governor has flown all the way to China to beg Chinese companies to bring jobs to Michigan, when all she had to do was to drive up north to find opportunity.”