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Holland’s Power Plant still being debated

November 29, 2012

This article was written by Nicole Berens-Capizzi.

Holland City Council held its regular weekly meeting on Wednesday, November 28.  At this meeting they discussed a variety of topics, including the 114 MW natural gas power plant being considered to power the city.  In the days leading up to the meeting, the public was under the impression that Holland City Council would vote on the Baseload Generation Staff Recommendation.  On November 12, Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) approved the staff recommendation to build the natural gas power plant.  Based on how the process had played out thus far, residents have expected city council would also approve this plan.  In spite of this, Mayor Kurt Dykstra officially announced to the media that a decision on the issue wouldn’t be likely at this meeting. 

During the pre-council meeting the general manager of HBPW, Dave Koster, briefly discussed the plan.  He said that HBPW had approved the plan and are “looking for council to follow suit”.  Not long after this discussion, the mayor announced that this issue would be taken off the agenda for the night, but city council would likely vote on the issue the following Wednesday, December 5.  Mayor Dykstra also announced that following the city council meeting would be a study session regarding the board’s recommendation.  This concerned many at the meeting because the decision to omit this issue from the agenda while holding a separate study session after the council meeting was never announced to the public prior to the pre-council meeting.  Because the study session is supposed to be open to the public it would have made sense to announce this decision prior to the meeting, in the name of transparency.  This decision was also problematic because the study session wouldn’t begin until later in the evening after much of the public had already left for the night.

Members of the public who wanted to comment on the recommendation were encouraged to do so either when item twelve on the agenda was addressed, or during the study session after the council meeting.  Once city council reached item twelve, three members of the public decided to speak out against the proposed 114 MW natural gas power plant.

Susan Harley, the Michigan Policy Director for Clean Water Action, stated for the record that since the study session is distinct from the city council meeting, an announcement should have been made about the study session at least eighteen hours in advance to comply with the Open Meetings Act.  She expressed concern not only about the fact that city council hadn’t decided to move completely away from coal, but also the environmental impacts of fracking.  She stated that HBPW didn’t include concerns about fracking throughout their decision making process because they felt this issue was out of their hands, but considering there may be more regulations on fracking in the near future, this is something they should take into consideration.  Overall, she said it’s the wrong time to make a decision on natural gas.

Carol from the Holland Area League of Women Voters, like Susan, also expressed concern about the fact that the city is still planning on keeping the James DeYoung coal-fired power plant running.  She spoke on behalf of LWV when stating that she is very concerned about climate change and believes Holland can be a leader in a cleaner energy future, should they decide to move toward a sustainable energy policy.

Jan O’Connell, the Energy Issues Organizer for the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club, said that “HBPW’s recommendation and vote is putting the cart before the horse in setting up and recommending a plan to build a large, 114 MW natural gas plant without fully factoring in and maximizing energy efficiency as well as renewable energy”.  She also expressed concern about the fluctuating price of natural gas and the city locking itself into one particular source of energy when it might not be financially sustainable in the future.

The study session regarding HBPW’s recommendation to move forward with the natural gas plant began at approximately 9:30pm.  Unfortunately, much of the public had left by this time.  Dave Koster of HBPW began the presentation by reiterating the idea that the public has had many opportunities to give input, though the public hasn’t felt very included in the process.  (A previous article explores this more in-depth.)  He went on to summarize HBPW’s proposal to “pursue combined-cycle technology in a 2 x 1 configuration approximately 114mw in size”.  In the presentation, they also included the idea that a “7.5% more efficient cycle means less emissions, less fuel burned and therefore less cost per kWh”.  Unfortunately, like many of the other arguments in favor of the natural gas power plant, this only looks at the bottom line and doesn’t take into consideration the impact that fracking for natural gas has on the environment.

Unlike the October 29 meeting, the public was given the opportunity to comment after the presentation by HBPW.  Most of the meeting thus far had focused on the economics of HBPW’s recommendation, with a few comments on the environmental impact of this plan.  The first person to comment during the study session, however, really brought the issue home.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to follow up with her after the meeting since she left right after speaking.  She said that if the city decides to go with natural gas, she hopes they continue researching other options, and she also asked HBPW if they knew who the provider of the natural gas would be.  Mr. Koster stated that HBPW owns a natural gas pipeline in Overisel that is connected to an interstate pipeline and has multiple suppliers.  After he said this, the concerned resident also expressed her fears about fracking.  She said that many Allegan residents have received letters or solicitations to lease their property for fracking.  In her words, this was “too close for comfort” given how unsafe fracking is and how they are exempt from regulations regarding clean air and water.  She said fracking destroys communities, and that people are paid big money for leasing their land, but have to sign nondisclosure agreements in the process.  “This imprisons people”, she said.

Mr. Koster stated that HBPW isn’t in the business of fracking or looking to get into the business, they just focus on what sources of energy are best for the city.  He also encouraged her to look up a fact sheet from the Michigan DEQ that “dispels myths about fracking”, and he reassured her that the process is safe and has been going on in Michigan for years.

Monica Hallacy, a concerned Holland resident, commented on how new horizontal hydraulic fracturing is to the state and expressed similar concerns regarding the industry’s exemptions from basic regulations.  She said that Holland wants to be a leader in clean energy.

I was the last person to comment during the study session.  I said that while I understand HBPW isn’t in the business of fracking, it’s irresponsible to not consider the impact fracking has on the environment when making decisions about the overall environmental impact of a particular source of energy.  I made the point that the DEQ and EPA are pro-industry, not community, and that the way to learn the truth about the impacts of fracking is to talk to those who live in communities where it’s taken place.  I mentioned the increased rates of breast cancer among those living near frack sites, and also the impact consumption of contaminated water has on farmers (their animals in particular).  After this comment, city council and HBPW moved on to a discussion of the proposal in general.

Even though no final decision was made on November 28, a few members of city council expressed various concerns about the board’s recommendation, including the possible location of the new natural gas power plant, as well as cautioning against relying strictly on one source of energy.  City council  seemed more divided on this issue than some of us previously believed.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Carol McGeehan permalink
    December 1, 2012 2:44 pm

    Thanks for covering this–great article!
    Carol McGeehan

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