With the issuance of an approval order Oct. 25, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality has concluded its role in a proposed natural gas-fueled power plant near Sigurd, in Sevier County.
"We're obviously very excited," said Bruce Taylor, principal for Nevco Energy/Sevier Power, the company behind the proposal. "It's been a very long and arduous process."
The road to the natural gas permit's approval started in 2001, which is when Nevco proposed the idea of building a coal-fueled power plant in Sevier County. The DEQ approved an air quality permit for the coal concept in 2004.
An appeal of the permit by activist groups including the Sierra Club, Save Our Air and Resources, and Sevier County Citizens for Clean Air and Water put the permit's status in question. Although initially upheld by the Utah Division of Air Quality Board, the appeals process eventually ended at the Utah Supreme Court.
The Utah Supreme Court revoked the permit with a pair of decisions in 2009, which required that more research be completed before the permit could be reissued.
At that point, Nevco scrapped the coal-fueled proposal and started the process over with a natural gas-fueled concept in 2010. While the physical size of the plant would be smaller, it would utilize three turbines to generate 540 megawatts - twice what the coal plant was proposed to generate. With no trucks to transport materials in and out of the site-on a regular basis, the noise level of the plant will also be significantly reduced.
Taylor said while the securing of an air quality permit is a significant step forward, there is still a lot of work left to do before construction of the plant can begin. Nevco has preliminary approval for the construction of a natural gas line to feed the plant; however, it could still be several months before the final approvals are issued for the gas line, Taylor said.
Nevco received a permit from Sevier County to build the plant in 2010.
While supporters of the power plant are excited about the air quality permit, those who oppose the idea continue to have reservations.
"The incremental consumption of airborne pollutants will be bumping up against the maximum allowed under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards," said Dick Cumiskey, president of SCCCAW.
He said the efforts of people in the county put a stop to what he described as a "potential tragedy" with the defeat of the coal proposal.
"By refusing to conduct an actual air quality study prior to issuing this permit,Utah Division of Air Quality has condemned us to the same malice plaguing the Wasatch Front," Cumiskey said. "We all still feel that we have been sold down the river by our elected state officials who seem not to appreciate the unique assets Sevier County enjoys."
The power plant, if constructed, would become the largest single contributor to the county's property tax base, said Malcolm Nash, Sevier County economic development director.
"Anytime you can add $600 million to the tax base, it's better for facing financial issues in the future," Nash said. He said diversifying the county's tax and employment bases is one of the goals of the county.
"It's good for the state as a whole," Nash said. He said by having the power plant, Utah will have another source for businesses that have a need for large amounts of electricity that may be interested in locating to the region.
The natural gas plant, once constructed, would employ between 20 and 30 people.