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Will Utah expand power plant?

L.A. officials, Leavitt meet to discuss plans

Los Angeles officials hope their Utah counterparts go along with the idea of adding more electric generation in the Beehive State to supply Los Angeles.

But Gov. Mike Leavitt said Tuesday the state will take a cautious approach to the concept.

The Californians met with Leavitt to broach the idea of adding between 500 and 1,000 megawatts of generation in Utah, probably at the Intermountain Power Plant near Delta. The IPP, which has two coal-fired units of 830 megawatts each, already supplies Los Angeles with one-third of its electricity.

Leavitt said the meeting was the first step in negotiating for such expansion. "The state of Utah is open to it," Leavitt said. "We just need to get into the particulars now and weigh the costs and benefits."

The IPP also serves several Utah cities and cooperatives, but California cities have rights to three-fourths of the current generation. S. David Freeman, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, said most of the new power would likely "be generated in Utah for use in Utah."

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan said the city currently has an overabundance of power, "but this isn't going to be true forever."

Riordan said the city is looking at natural gas, coal, hydro, wind and solar options for power.

Freeman concurred, saying new generation in Utah does not necessarily need to be fueled by coal — a resource plentiful in Utah but environmentally dirtier than natural gas.

"We haven't ruled anything out," Freeman said. "Let's be clear: We're not asking the people of Utah to do anything other than what the governor and the people want to do."

Riordan said environmental concerns would not be lost in the discussion. "You have to balance priorities, which is very difficult for elected leaders to do" because of potential criticism from all fronts, he said. However, he added, "You can't make energy so expensive that it destroys the economies of Western states."

Leavitt said natural gas use is less likely at IPP because of "pipeline implications there," but he said the state would be willing to help fast-track the permitting process for a project deemed in the state's best interests.

Reed Searle, general manager of the Intermountain Power Agency, which oversees IPP, said last month that even with quickened permitting, the new Utah generation plant would be operational no earlier than 2005. Riordan has said a Utah plant could be completed in three years.

Leavitt and others on Tuesday emphasized that Western entities need to work together to solve the energy troubles of the region.

"We recognize we sit on a storehouse of energy in this state," Leavitt said of Utah's coal. But Utah needs to meet its own power needs "and then contribute to the larger good."

Freeman said the cooperation at IPP for two decades has yielded mutual benefits. "We've been through tough times together and now we see new opportunities," he said. "We're not asking anybody to do anything that's not in the best interests of Utah."

Riordan said adding generation at IPP could cost more than $1 billion but that the investment would be made only if long-term power contracts are in place to pay off revenue bonds to fund the work.