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Inspired by Kansas rejection, opponents target rural Mo. plant

Nov 13, 2007 - Alan Scher Zagier- The Associated Press

A proposed new power plant in rural Carroll County is drawing opposition from some local residents and environmentalists who want state regulators and the utility company to put more emphasis on alternative energy sources.

Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. of Springfield has received preliminary approval from the state to build a 660-megawatt coal-fired plant in Norborne, a town of about 780 residents about 60 miles east of Kansas City.

The $1.3 billion project would provide power to the 51 local co-ops the large utility serves.

But amid growing concern over global warming, project opponents say the new plant would increase health risks and air pollution, generating 6.8 million tons annually of carbon dioxide.

They want Missouri regulators to take cues from their counterparts in Kansas, where the state's health and environment secretary rejected an air-quality permit for a pair of coal-fired plants Sunflower Electric Power Corp. hoped to build in Holcomb.

"We need to reject permits for more coal-burning power plants until we figure out what to do about global warming," said Melissa Hope of the Sierra Club's Missouri chapter.

The project has the support of city and county officials, who say the economic impact is sorely needed. But some area residents worry that the health risks of living near a power plant render that argument moot.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources had scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday night in Norborne.

A final decision from the Department of Natural Resources could come as soon as mid-January, or 60 days after the Nov. 21 deadline for written public comments, said Kyra Moore, permit section chief for the agency's air pollution control program.

Should the department give final approval, construction is expected to begin in 2008, with anticipated operations in 2013. If the state rejects the Norborne permit, Associated Electric has identified an alternate site in northwest Missouri, in the Holt County town of Big Lake.

As for the concerns over carbon-dioxide emissions, Moore said the state agency is obliged to follow federal standards when considering permits. And when it comes to CO2, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is silent.

"There is no federal standard, so under the air quality rules, there's no requirement for us to review CO2," she said.

But for other pollutants, the state has set emissions limits that are more stringent than other recently permitted facilities in Missouri and that are "among the strictest ever issued in the United States for a coal-based power plant," Associated Electric spokeswoman Nancy Southworth said.

Customer demand for electricity is driving the need to expand, she added.

"We serve rural electric cooperatives in rural Missouri, and a few in southeast Iowa and northeast Oklahoma," she said. "All of these systems are growing, and they're growing exponentially."

The plant also would contribute 900 construction jobs and 139 full-time jobs once the project is complete, according to the utility.