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Speer: Writing is on the wall for power plant

January 20, 2012
Bill Speer - Editor/Publisher , The Alpena News

Football Hall of Famer and ABC commentator Don Meredith was well known for this saying when a game he was broadcasting turned into a one-sided blowout: "Turn out the lights, the party's over."

Unfortunately for Northeast Michigan residents, the light switch seems to have been flipped when it comes to Wolverine's proposed power plant in Rogers City.

The party is over, the euphoria has ceased and it looks as if the final air has been let out of the collective hopes of a region.

Which is sad.

Officially, Wolverine only has delayed the project until at least next year because of new Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Officially, the project is not dead, only on a "time out" until vendors can guarantee they can meet the standards of the new regulations at a reasonable cost.

This, in my mind, is only semantics.

It is a polite way of preparing the community for the inevitable. Had the project been able to stay true to its original timeframe, construction costs would have been "X." Since it was delayed, those costs became "X" and "Y" because of inflation. Throw in the new EPA regulations, and today's costs are "X," "Y" and "Z."

I don't care what business you are in, when your costs are accelerating like that, it's that much harder to make a profit, or, in this instance, justify construction for a project that now is several years behind schedule.

I'm sure there are many in the state happy with the news. At best, the coal-powered facility was controversial in nature because of the fuel it would use.

Yet even as the news was breaking about Wolverine's decision, the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was saying the Palisades nuclear power plant on the shores of Lake Michigan in southwest Michigan was one of the five worst-performing plants in the country.

The Palisades plant is one of the 10 oldest in the country and the NRC went on record last week publicly taking it to task for a series of mistakes there last year, from shutdowns to accidents and safety violations.

And other energy sources aren't much better.

On Christmas Eve a gas well leak in Crawford County resulted in a noticeable odor across the region that could be smelled by residents as far as 80 miles away from the source. And, fracking practices by some oil and gas companies doing business in Michigan has environmentalists concerned about threats to groundwater sources.

All of which only goes to strengthen the argument I have shared since day one of the Wolverine story that the best energy policy for Michigan isn't just one source, but many. If Michigan legislators and energy regulators really want to ensure the most cost efficient, reliable and sustaining energy for state residents, then they should embrace a policy that ensures the energy from a variety of different sources.

The simple truth is no energy source is without its environmental issues. None.

The best we can hope for from an environmental perspective are strong rules and regulations that will govern fuel use.

The Wolverine story should never have been one that pitted one side against another, but one where both sides were working together toward a common goal.

Coal isn't going away. Nor should it. It still is going to be used as an energy source in Michigan and elsewhere.

It might now no longer show up in Rogers City, but it will be back. Somewhere.

Of that I'm certain.



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