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Opponents plan last-ditch effort to stop Lansing natural gas plant

Mar 23, 2018

Lansing Board of Water and Light's Eckhert coal plant, which is scheduled to close in 2020
Credit Lansing Board of Water and Light

The Lansing Board of Water and Light meets Tuesday to vote on issuing bonds for a new natural gas plant, but opponents plan to make a last-ditch effort to change the minds of board members.

The city-owned utility held public meetings before choosing a natural gas plant to replace two coal-burning plants. "But that was several years ago," says Rebecca Payne with the Lansing Environmental Action Team. "Things on the energy market are changing overnight."

Payne says members of her group will be at the Tuesday board meeting, asking the board to re-examine the alternatives, including solar, wind, storage, and demand reduction.

She says natural gas may emit fewer carbon emissions at the plant level than coal, but the process of fracking for natural gas results in methane leaks, and methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon.

Fracking in some areas has also caused earthquakes.

A spokeswoman for the Lansing BWL says even with the new natural gas plant, the utility's carbon emissions will decline 80% by 2025. From the utility's statement:

The more than two year planning process that is expected to lead to the approval of BWL’s new plant was open, transparent and participatory. It began with the creation of a Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC), comprised of nine BWL customers who held six public meetings and received public comment in development of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). The Citizen Advisory Committee was composed of energy experts, community and neighborhood leaders, clean air advocates and Lansing business representatives. The BWL actively promoted participation from among its customers, publicly requesting interested customers to apply to serve on the committee. This team was charged with developing recommendations for the replacement of the coal-fired Eckert Power Station and held its meetings throughout the BWL service territory. A website was also developed, www.lansingenergytomorrow.com, that had information about each meeting along with an audio recording of each meeting. The website also accepted public comment for those citizens unable to attend any of the meetings.

Following the BWL’s announcement of its new plant on December 18, 2017, the BWL Board of Commissioners, at its regular meeting on January 23, 2018, authorized approval of a Notice of Intent to issue a revenue bond resolution to finance construction of the plant, which closed on March 13, 2018. The BWL Board of Commissioners is expected to give final approval of the bond issuance to finance construction of the plant at its regular meeting next week on Tuesday, March 27. This will complete our planning process and we intend to move forward with building the new plant upon approval.

DTE Energy, a state-regulated utility, also wants to build a large natural gas plant to replace three of its coal-burning plants, which will shut down in 2023.

The utility's request is pending before the Michigan Public Service Commission. National and state environmental groups say the utility did not fully consider alternatives.