Our View: The coal case | SierraSun.com

Our View: The coal case

Watching the marathon Truckee Donner Public Utility District meeting on Wednesday night was similar to a complicated trial.

For several hours, customers/owners, aka the prosecution, of the utility laid out why, as they see it, a proposed 50-year electricity contract with a coal-fired power plant in Utah is guilty of being a bad idea.

Global warming, plant emissions, the duration of the contract, a changing regulatory climate, the need for green alternatives and a questionable legacy left for our children were just a few of the convincing arguments posed. As any good prosecution of a case goes, it was enough to carry an open-minded person to that “reasonable-doubt” threshold.

And while they aren’t necessarily the bad guys, the defense, aka the utility’s staff, which is pretty much on the defensive on this one, also laid out its view of things. Essentially staff’s case comes down to the reality of our community’s power consumption and why the 50-year coal option wasn’t a non-starter to begin with. Some 17 percent of the district’s electricity portfolio already comes from coal-based electricity. Staff, and some board members’ defense: Better lock up a low-cost deal with a supposedly cleaner coal plant now than risk the market, which will likely offer costlier power from an unknown coal plant.

That information was enough to carry an open-minded person a few steps away from the reasonable-doubt line.

The fact that the district must finalize its contract with Utah Associated Municipal Power System before the first of the year because a new California law will go into place limiting coal and other non-green energy contracts to fewer than five years is another twist in this case. Depending where one stands, that’s either a moral decision or a pragmatic one.

What we do know is the district ” and customers ” could probably do a whole lot more as far as whittling down our base power needs through energy conservation.

Also, ideas brought forward Wednesday include the formation of a Citizen’s Advisory Group that could have weighed in on something like a 50-year power contract well before the issue hit critical mass. Then there is the suggestion of a carbon offset option on ratepayers’ bills. Customers could choose to pay a few bucks a month that would automatically be set aside in a special fund that could be used to purchase renewable power or other projects.

Regardless of the by-products of the whole coal case, the jury ” the five utility district board members ” is out until a special meeting scheduled for Dec. 13.