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THE LATEST SAD EPISODE

December 6, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
The Post Journal reported Saturday (DEC 5, 09) the City of Jamestown and its Board of Public Utilities was denied Federal funding for the proposed oxy coal plant. Instead three plants, one in West Virginia, one in Alabama and another in Texas were chosen over Jamestown and 37 other projects that had applied for funds from the Department of Energy.

American Electric Power plans to “design, construct and operate a chilled ammonia process” at a 1.3 GW power plant owned by Appalachian Power Co. over the next 10 years in West Virginia which will capture 90 percent of carbon dioxide from that plant. The captured carbon dioxide will be stored in saline formations 1.5 miles below the earth’s surface.

The Alabama project will retrofit carbon capture technology onto an existing coal fired power plant that generates 2667 megawatts of electricity. The proposal is to bury the captured carbon dioxide in deep saline formations and try to use it for enhanced oil recovery.

The Texas project is for the construction of a 400 megawatt plant in the Midland-Odessa area and will pipe captured carbon dioxide to West Texas where it will be used for enhanced oil recovery.

The POST JOURNAL report indicated that none of the projects that received DOE money for carbon capture use oxy-coal technology which is the technology the city hoped to retrofit onto the Samuel A. Carlson Generating Plant.

People involved with the local oxy-coal plant expressed surprise and disappointment. Senator Schumer wasn’t pleased. He said the decision was “wrong headed.” His reaction surprises me because New York’s Senior Senator has political muscle in the Senate since he was the one who successfully headed the Democratic search for Senate candidates two elections ago.

In this instance New York’s senior Senator either didn’t have as much juice as did the other Senators or Jamestown’s proposal couldn’t stand muster. Of course he was up against Senator Byrd, the longest serving Senator in history, and Senator Rockefeller from West Virginia, Senators Shelby and Sessions from Alabama and Senators Hutchison and Cornyn from Texas.

Plant Manager Dave Leathers issued a written statement that said the DOE “missed opportunities” in failing to fund oxy-coal projects. Leathers also said: “If carbon capture and sequestration technology, with significant carbon removal rates, is to be made available nationally soon, it’s important that the department move to fund oxy-coal technology.”

Mayor Sam Teresi who is also BPU President said he was “disappointed” but indicated the DOE’s decision was not totally unexpected. He explained that the city would continue pursuit of “other opportunities.” MayorTeresi, with Board Chairman Zabrodsky and Plant Manager Leathers said they need more information and that they are going to request a “debrief meeting” with the DOE, probably in Pittsburgh, to determine the strengths and weaknesses of their application that was denied.

Officials claim the debrief meeting will give them a better understanding of what the Department of Energy’s concerns are regarding oxy-coal technology. Leathers said the BPU received a lot of feedback from various places that oxy-coal technology is key when it comes to America’s energy future and that it needs to be funded. He said oxy-coal was over looked for an award. Again the city’s Board of Public Utilities has experienced another serious setback in its pursuit of trying to rebuild our power plant. Like death by a thousand paper cuts this project has been plagued from the very beginning with problems and failures so much so that it perfectly illustrates the difference between public and private sector companies.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if the BPU had been a publicly owned corporation on the stock exchange that its stock would have plummeted and heads would have rolled. Instead, the city’s BPU has pursued this project with such determination that it was changed three times. First, the project was the replacement of an aging boiler, next it was a fluidized coal project using biomass then it was changed to an oxy-coal project to capture carbon dioxide and bury it underground somewhere in the Town of Ellery.

There was an effort to relocate and construct BPU offices over what was for decades the city’s residential and industrial landfill--a soupy garbage dump. By most accounts that unsuccessful attempt cost city residents nearly a quarter million dollars and the results of test borings are yet to be released. Current plans are to build BPU offices on one of the only pieces of prime industrial sites within the city. One must wonder if the city’s BPU might change directions again now that there is a possibility that the Evan’s Skateland property might be going on the market.

I do not believe even for a moment that the city and the BPU’s conduct has involved criminality as others have suggested, but even the most casual observer must question their due diligence. In all candor, rate payers and the residents of Jamestown have been ill served by all involved, including our city council that has oversight responsibilities.

There is no question that from the beginning the city and the BPU has spent money freely--two, three, maybe four million dollars on Washington lawyers and lobbyist alone. That might have been a necessary expense, but did anyone in the BPU’s management or Board, the Mayor or the City Council--anyone ever question what we got in return for those expenditures?

To illustrate that point; look at the companies that got the awards. They were all big, coal burning plants that generates or will collectively generate billions of watts electricity.

One must wonder if there wasn’t someone in a Washington law firm or the office of a lobbyist with a connection in the Department of Energy that could have given a clue of the Department’s preference? Could the city and the BPU learned through those contacts that oxy-coal plants were not in the running and especially a small 40 Megawatt plant? Who advised the city to pursue oxy-coal?

Mayor Teresi said the DOE’s decision was disappointing but not unexpected. That suggests the Mayor had doubts about the proposal. If he indeed doubted, why didn’t he express those doubts? If the Mayor held doubts, did others have misgivings?

The City Council has authority to hold hearings, to take sworn testimony. Before the city and the BPU continues this process now is the time for council to hold public hearings--not to look for who is wrong, but what is wrong. Now is the time for city residents and rate payers to have an inside look at the BPU management, the BPU Board and the Mayor’s part in this process--an accounting. Before the city and the BPU heads off in another direction--before another dime is spent on this project, now is the time for rate payers and residents to see what their money has bought thus far in the process.

 
 

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Blog Photos

A Southern Company Power Plant like the Alabama Barry site.