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Utilities have no pressing need for electricity from the Thousand Springs Power Plant proposed for northeastern Nevada, according to a senior economist for the Utah Division of Public Utilities.

And the director of the Utah Bureau of Air Quality added that the plant may threaten air quality in the already heavily polluted Wasatch Front. The project could use better technology to reduce air pollution, he said.Rodger Weaver, the economist, and Burnell Cordner, the air-quality chief, spoke at a meeting of the Utah Energy Conservation and Development Council on Thursday. The session, held at the Alta Lodge, focused on the proposed coal-fired generating plant, which would be built for profit by private industry.

The council asked the Utah Energy Office to report by Aug. 23 on the plant's environmental and economic situation.

Thousand Springs has been rated as "environmentally unsatisfactory" by the Environmental Protection Agency because of effects on air quality and wetlands. It is to be built Because of the lower demand, Weaver said, "generation additions are going to be a lot smaller over the next 10 years than they were in the last 10 years." The availability of transmission lines is likely to be much more of a bottleneck than the availability of power, he said.

Although the power companies aren't depending on Thousand Springs, Weaver told the Deseret News later, the utilities are still "definitely looking to the possibility of buying from Thousand Springs." They haven't discarded that possible source.

Cordner said Gov. Norm Bangerter's concern is for the health and welfare of Utahns and the environment. He is concerned about the plant's potential effects, he said.

"Some of the controls proposed for Thousand Springs are not current technology," he said. "Utah's not going to be the permitting agency . . . I think the EIS (environmental impact statement) was invalid in a lot of areas that concerned air quality."

The EPA ruled that the draft statement was inadequate, but plant backers say the Bureau of Land Management (which is overseeing the environmental study) will issue a final EIS without reissuing an improved draft statement.

The plant's "dry scrubber" pollution controls would capture only 87 percent of the sulfur dioxide emissions, while "wet scrubber" technology might remove 95 percent, Cordner said.

"It might be that 2,000 megawatts (of plant capacity) may not be built if there is not enough water," he said.

Also, another type of control could reduce nitrogen oxides by "thousands of tons," he said.

"The plant is proposed to be built in the area with the greatest visibility range in the United States."

Cordner said state officials don't believe the impact on Utah's downwind areas has been sufficiently addressed in the environmental studies. Mostly the region near the plant in Nevada was studied.

Even then, using a tall smokestack that would disperse pollutants, the plant could barely meet some clean-air requirements in nearby parts of Nevada, computer modeling indicates, he said.

Robert Pratt, president of Bonneville Pacific Inc. - a Salt Lake-based company that is a major partner in the Thousand Springs project - said the law requires that the best available control technology be used to curb air pollution.

But what's available isn't defined simply by what type of equipment has been built, he said. It takes into account the economics of the project, as well as environmental protection.

"We went with dry scrubbers because of water (availability) and because of economics," he said.

"We hope to meet both the emission as well as the ambient air standards," he added - even in the Wasatch Front. Emissions will be carefully checked by an unprecedented series of monitoring stations, he pledged.

Pratt said coal for Thousand Springs would come from Utah and Wyoming mines that are investors in the venture.

The plant must justify each new unit that it adds, getting an OK from the EPA for each addition. The information needed to justify the air-quality permit will be much more detailed than that in the environmental statement, according to Pratt.

He said the plant's planners don't know if there will be any air-quality effects in the Wasatch Front.