ROGERS CITY - With federal greenhouse gas limits looming, Wolverine Power Cooperative has decided to cancel its plans to build a coal-fired power plant near Rogers City.
The cooperative announced its decision Tuesday morning, citing new and pending Environmental Protection Agency rules that make it nearly impossible to build a coal-fired power plant. Ken Bradstreet, governmental affairs consultant for the project, said he and Wolverine CEO Eric Baker told a group of supporters and elected officials that proposed limits on greenhouse gases make the project impractical.
"We wanted to see what the new proposed rules would be from the EPA," he said. "They came out this fall, and we had a chance to analyze them. It appeared to us that they were not going to allow a coal plant to be built. It's that simple."
The EPA is in the process of coming up with greenhouse gas limits for existing plants, and on Sept. 20 issued a proposed emissions limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of energy produced for new plants. While the proposal specifically exempts Wolverine's project, the cooperative would have to start construction before the rules are finalized to remain so. Otherwise, the plant couldn't meet the standard.
While Bradstreet wasn't sure when the proposed limit would be finalized, Wolverine's permit to build the plant expires in mid-2014. With all the steps required before breaking ground, the cooperative's time to make a decision had run out.
"With all the resources we've put into this, it doesn't seem like it's going to be allowed to happen," he said.
Wolverine first announced the project in 2006. The 600-megawatt plant would've burned mostly coal, supplemented with an oil refinery byproduct called petcoke, and up to 20 percent biomass. The proposed site was within Carmeuse Lime & Stone's Calcite quarry, and the plant would've used the quarry's limestone in its pollution controls.
The project had several setbacks, including the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's initial denial of an air permit. That decision eventually was reversed, which led to a lawsuit from two environmental organizations in 2011. The DEQ and Wolverine won, but the project was held up again in 2012 after the EPA proposed mercury and air toxics standards the new plant couldn't meet.
After this year's revisions to those standards gave Wolverine a small chance to go ahead, the EPA delivered the final blow with its greenhouse gas standards.
The new EPA proposal mentions capturing carbon dioxide as the best way to meet greenhouse gas standards. From there, it could be stored underground, possibly in oil fields or geological formations.
These technologies are new and expensive, and adding carbon capture to Wolverine's plant would make it even more costly, Bradstreet said in January.
While a natural gas-fired power plant would fall within the new proposals, Rogers City is too far from any major pipeline, Bradstreet said. The cost of building a connection would make the project too expensive. Wolverine will have to look for other means to meet its power needs.
"You've got a limited number of options to work with," he said. "It appears that coal is out, and it appears that nuclear is very, very difficult. About the only avenue that is left is natural gas."
The project could've served as a major economic resource for the Rogers City area and enjoyed lots of local support, Bradstreet said. He personally believes regulations that prevent using coal for energy are short-sighted and make it difficult for the nation to become energy-independent.
"We are so grateful to the community, they've been outstanding for their support," Bradstreet said. "One of the hardest things about walking away from a project like this is, people have wanted it so much."