Wednesday, July 04, 2001

Officials: Energy plant won't cripple Smokies

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

        HINDMAN, Ky. — Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham broke ground Monday on a coal-fired power plant federal park officials had questioned as a possible pollution threat to the Great Smoky Mountains.

        Mr. Abraham heralded the $900 million Kentucky Mountain Power plant as a model for the Bush administration's new energy policy because it is designed with technology that allows coal to be burned with minimal air pollution. The plant is expected to open in three years and power up to 315,000 homes.

[photo] U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham (right) and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell break ground on a new power plant near Hindman, Ky.
(Associated Press photo)
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        Officials from the Great Smoky Mountains had raised concerns late last year that air pollution from the plant might affect visibility in the already hazy national park.

        Park Superintendent Michael Tollefson has since withdrawn those concerns and commended Kentucky Mountain Power for using state-of-the-art technology to clean up emissions.

        With 24 requests pending to build new power plants in Kentucky, environmentalists still worry that pollution will be an increasing problem in the region. A handful of members from the environmental group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth heckled political leaders who spoke favorably about the proposed plant, at one point calling U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell a clown and telling him to go back to Washington.

        Morten Sissener, chief operating officer for EnviroPower, the Lexington company building the plant, said pollution catchers will allow the generating system to burn low-grade fuels and still meet all federal and state air-quality guidelines.

        U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said the plant will burn about 2 million tons a year of waste coaldumped in giant heaps across Appalachia. He said that means the plant will help eliminate an unsightly environmental problemof Eastern Kentucky.

        Mr. Sissener said the plant will emit less mercury than any other coal-fired plant in the world — one to two pounds a year, compared with 3,640 pounds allowed.

        The technology would capture 98 percent of the of the sulfur dioxide emissions, as well as 95 percent of particulate matter.

        The company says the plant will emit less than a fourth of the total emissions of even the cleanest existing coal-fired power plant.

        Tom FitzGerald, executive director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said any additional coal-powered generating plants pose an environmental problem for the region.

        “They're not replacing the older, dirtier power plants,” he said. “They are simply adding to the air pollution problem.”

        Gov. Paul Patton has imposed a moratorium on additional permit applications, but Mr. FitzGerald said it came too late.


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