After its infamously failed effort to spend billions of dollars building five nuclear power plants during the 1970’s — at a time when Washington state was awash in cheap hydro-power — the “Washington Public Power Supply System”, now renamed Energy Northwest, is back proposing another mega-project…” a roughly $1 billion 600-megawatt Western Washington power plant” that would burn coal and petroleum coke.
The emphasis on the word “roughly” is mine, and considering WPPSS history, it’s well deserved. The cost of WPPSS nuclear folly ballooned many times over original projections before it was shut down by voter initiative in the 1980’s, and was forced to default on $2.25 billion in bonds. So despite a recent record of apparently sound management, the financial underpinnings of this project must be closely scrutinized.
But I’m also disturbed by Energy Northwest’s willingness to embrace coal, at a time we need to be investing more heavily in renewable energy resources like wind. I’m not qualified to prejudge the proposed plant’s new technology, but there seems no dispute that without sequestration, carbon emissions would be twice that of a traditional natural gas powered plant. Considering the growing impact of global warming, wouldn’t it make better sense to invest “roughly” $1 billion in a proven, carbon-free technology like wind power, rather than testing a new technology for burning coal and oil refinery waste?
Energy Northwest deserves some credit for its financial turn-around, and for investing in some green technologies, but a lot of questions remain… not the least of which concern the power consumption projections on which it is justifying the need for this new mega-plant. And a lot of questions need to be answered before we break ground on a new coal-fired powered plant in Western Washington.