Coal Report

City Manager, John Lawton, gave a report to the City Commission on the status of the City's efforts to operate its own energy utility at the City Commission meeting on January 2, 2007. Somewhat amazingly, given the amount of interest this issue has generated, the report was not listed on the Commission's Agenda for that meeting. I can't think of a reason why it wouldn't have been included.

And, according to the online edition, the Tribune had no idea it was going to be discussed at the meeting, and apparently missed the report while they were there. (I don't have the print version anymore, so maybe there was a story on Mr. Lawton's report that I can't find.) Oh well, what's a $500,000,000.00 power plant when we have a pet ordinance on the line? Or Groundhog Job Shadow Day? (Seriously. Or perhaps, more apt, unseriously.)

In any event, I went through the City Manager's PowerPoint presentation on the City's website. The references to pages here are from the .pdf version I have linked. (If you don't have Adobe Reader, you should.)

First, on p. 1 of Mr. Lawton's report, I find two references to the "Proposed Small Customer Supply Program." Only a week or two ago, Coleen Balzarini was telling us that the City "has not made a final decision" whether it intends to try to sell power to residents (read: US), but now they have apparently made up their minds. I sure hope that p. 1 of Mr. Lawton's presentation was not created before Ms. Balzarini's guest opinion, because that would be awful disingenuous of her to suggest that the City hadn't decided what it wants to do when, in fact, it had. I think we are entitled to more forthright information from our employees, don't you?

We really should thank the artist who gave us p. 3 of Mr. Lawton's presentation. Boy, don't the Highwoods look pretty with that coal plant in front of them? Personally, I am not one of these guys who thinks we have to preserve beauty at all costs, but who thought to create this slide? Are they trying to give ammunition to their opponents?

On p. 7, Mr. Lawton discusses the latest "independent engineer's analysis" commissioned by the City. The study will be part of the City's "due diligence moving forward." Uh, how much have we spent so far? A half a million? A million? I think we done already moved forward. Shouldn't this "comprehensive technical and economic review" (p.8) already have been done? And, if the review is favorable, it will "help the City obtain the necessary financing." (p.9) What if it is unfavorable? What then?

This is an issue that makes me very suspicious. I just don't buy the spin that this 11th hour independent analysis is just routine due diligence. This was requested by the bond underwriters. I am very, very uneasy about the fact that this is being passed off to us as 'no big deal,' when it seems to me to be pretty unusual to do a comprehensive review this late in the game. Somebody saw something that made them uneasy (p.11) and somebody on our City Commission should be asking what that something was. And I don't hear anybody asking it. We are entitled to the whole story.

I am not going to talk much about the air quality issues because it is not really my cup of tea. I don't have any real basis to dispute what the City is saying.

I do, however, have a serious concern about some of the statements about carbon dioxide. Once again, it seems that we're not being given the whole story or, at a minimum, risks are being glossed over as non-existent.

On p.23, Mr. Lawton makes a couple statements: "Any regulation of CO2 will impact all fossil fuel consuming industries, not just HGS." and "Any increase in cost due to future CO2 emission
regulations will affect all energy consumers."

These statements trouble me. Someone is making HUGE assumptions that may or may not be true, and the success of this project could very well hinge, or at least be significantly impacted by the truth or lack thereof. No one knows whether or not CO2 emission regulations or taxes will be spread equally, or whether advantages might be given to some industries over others. Can Mr. Lawton tell me what my taxes will be in 10 years? Can he tell me what regulations my law practice might face in 11 years? Of course not. And he can't accurately make these statements about the coal plant either.

So, we're faced with two possible problems with the viability of this plant and its ability to provide low-cost energy, and the entire risk is passed off with two unsupported (and unsupportable) statements on a PowerPoint presentation. This is not good, my friends.

Mr. Lawton discusses why hydroelectric power is not feasible (p.29). First, he says "new dams are not being built." Why not? How many dams could we build for $500,000,000.00? Once again, its just a statement...meaningless in itself. (By the way, why didn't we buy the dams before PPL? Did our City Manager urge the then Commission to try?)

City Manager Lawton then discusses public participation issues (p.30). Some citizens have suggested that the public has not been consulted on this project to an appropriate extent.

On p. 33, Mr. Lawton wins the irony award. He points out that agendas are published 3.5 days before the Commission meetings and placed on the website. Great. But what if things like, oh, I don't know, the ENERGY REPORT aren't on the agenda? Defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

Here's the problem, folks. I have read his report. I have read all kinds of Commission minutes, reports, and studies. Nowhere, NOWHERE, have I read Mr. Lawton give us a frank assessment of the risks in this whole venture. What can go wrong? What are the risks?

Because there are risks, things can go wrong. And when I read this business plan, and I don't read anything at all about a downside, I get real nervous. That tells me that the risks are being glossed over, ignored, or, worst yet, buried.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have nailed the problems a lot of folks have with this coming disaster.