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Carroll County Commissioners and Associated Electric Cooperative, Inc. (AECI) have signed a new economic development agreement, extending the development period of a Norborne power plant to 30 years.
The agreement, which has been in place for a couple of months, keeps the door open for Associated Electric to build a future generator plant. During the development stage, AECI has agreed to pay a yearly grant to Carroll County of $25,000 and payment of yearly taxes on their land, according to Nelson Heil, Carroll County presiding commissioner.
If and when construction begins, AECI will pay Carroll County $500,000 a year, in lieu of taxes.
“We didn’t want to give things away. We are giving up Associated [AECI] land taxes – between $8,000 to $9,000 dollars a year – to get a half a million. That’s a deal I would make any day,” Heil said.
Plans for a 600-megawatt coal plant were “postponed indefinitely” by the AECI board in March, due to skyrocketing costs and uncertainty with carbon legislation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service, a major player in rural utility financing, suspended funds for baseload generation, such as coal-fired plants, forcing AECI and other energy wholesalers to find major sources of alternative financing.
According to Heil, in one month’s time – from February to March of this year – the cost of construction shot up $56 million on the projected $2 billion plant.
The Sierra Club, working with the Concerned Citizens of Carroll County, also threatened a lawsuit on the environmental impact of the coal-burning plant.
New environmental regulations and greenhouse emission debates on Capitol Hill create an uncertain future for the project; however, political winds can turn directions.
“We wanted to keep the [Norborne] site viable. Politics could change and costs could change. We really don’t know what’s going to happen to control carbon which is a really big question for us,” said Nancy Southworth, spokesperson for Associated Electric.
“There have been some pretty extreme pieces of legislation, mostly in the Senate. It’s very much in the top of the discussion list. It’s very difficult to plan, which take years to do and huge amounts of money,” she said.
Southwind said the Norborne site is ideal for a coal plant because water is plentiful and nearby transmission lines can easily put power into AECI’s transmission system. She also said the facility would be built to add carbon controls. Specific controls would be determined by federal regulation. Currently, coal-fired generation is the most economical energy that can run around the clock, she said.
Heil said if this project does become a reality, the workforce during the peak of construction would be 1,000 workers. During normal operations, 135 jobs would be created with an average salary of $50,000 a year, he said.
“I think it will be built, but don’t know when. I’m optimistic. We definitely need the jobs and we need the power, not 20 years from now. I don’t think we can wait that long for the perfect answer to come along. Because, I don’t think it’ll be here,” Heil said
In the meantime, AECI has moved ahead with two natural gas generator plants in the state and is in the planning stage of a nuclear generating plant. That plant is scheduled to be online by 2017. The cooperative is also assisting three wind farms in northwest Missouri which are not fully functional yet. Southwind said AECI is in the “shake-out phase” of maintenance issues with the wind power projects.