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Utah Supreme Court rules against coal power plant

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court ruled Friday that a company fighting to build a coal-fired power plant in central Utah must try to obtain a new pollution permit.

It was a major setback for Sevier Power Co., which first got its emissions permit in 2004 and may not want to bother starting again, according to the company's lawyer.

Fred Finlinson said Nevco Energy Co. — the Nevada power producer behind the Utah project — may decide it's not worth the expense, time or labor trying to win a permit again.

Finlinson said opponents will fight every step of the way at the Utah Air Quality Division and in the state courts, and that any single delay is a loss for the developer.

"We won on four of the seven issues, but we still lost," Finlinson said of the Utah Supreme Court's unanimous decision.

"The net effect is we still have to go back to the state division to submit additional evidence. We've got to do it over," he said. He said they were in the process of assessing whether or not it's worth doing.

The Utah Supreme Court ruled that Sevier Power Co. and state officials incorrectly calculated allowable nitrous oxide emissions in the permit.

On another major issue, the court ruled that regulators didn't give enough consideration to requiring Sevier Power Co. to build a cleaner-burning coal gasification plant.

Finlinson said converting coal to gas before burning is too expensive and that Nevco isn't inclined to underwrite that kind of power plant. It planned to build a regular pulverized-coal burning plant, which emits more pollution.

The court also held that Sevier Power Co.'s emissions permit expired because the company failed to start construction within 18 months of receiving the permit.

Finlinson said administrative delays, appeals and court challenges made getting anything done in 18 months impossible.

The court's decision was a victory for the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club and two Sevier County retirees, Jim Kennon and Dick Cumiskey, who led the local opposition.

Nevco planned to build the 270-megawatt power plant on 300 acres of privately owned land near Sigurd, a farm community in central Utah.

"Nobody around here wants this plant to be built," said Kennon, a retired firefighter. "It will poison our air, threaten our water supplies and destroy our quality of life."

If the project dies, it will be the second time this year that a proposal for coal-fired power in Utah was killed.

In June, the owners of Intermountain Power Agency decided to scrap plans to build a third coal-fired generator at its 1,800-megawatt power station at Delta, also in central Utah.