TWIN FALLS, Idaho – Three southern Idaho lawmakers are working on legislation that could give the state more authority to decide where new high-power energy plants are located.
Although a lengthy federal environmental permitting process already exists for companies that want to construct a new plant, Sens. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, and Tom Gannon, R-Buhl, along with Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, say the state can play a larger role in that process.
Each are members of the Energy, Environment and Technology Interim Committee.
The interest in energy plant siting laws comes as San Diego-based Sempra Generation is considering construction of a $1 billion, 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Jerome County.
Opponents argue the plant could pollute southern Idaho’s air and that the state should use renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power instead.
But earlier this month, Jerome County commissioners granted Sempra permission to set up a meteorological tower and weather station northeast of the city of Jerome.
The company will collect information about precipitation, wind speed and temperature for the next year. Results must be submitted to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, which will use the data to judge an air-quality permit application needed by Sempra before any plant is built.
The company also plans to monitor the level of existing air pollutants such a sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter and ozone.
State lawmakers are expected to meet this week with legislative staff to review Idaho laws and study what’s been done elsewhere.
“I think we’re the only state without an energy plant siting law,” Mike Nugent, legislative research supervisor, said Sunday as he was preparing for the meetings.
Stennett said he’s pushing for legislation that would still affect Sempra, even though the company has already passed some initial clearances.
“If we can get an energy siting law in place with an emergency clause early in the legislative session, I believe Sempra would fall into the jurisdiction of that new law,” he said.
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