Small California Town Debates Coal Power, Climate Change


While the effects of climate change will affect us regardless of where we live, much of the debate has occurred in major cities: Washington, DC, New York, London, etc. Yet, for Truckee, California, the climate crisis has become a hot topic (no pun intended) as residents take positions on an upcoming vote of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District board. At issue: should the district contribute to the construction of "a new coal-fired power plant in Utah that that could supply the area with cheap electricity but also spew millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the air?" Residents are divided, and the San Francisco Chronicle claims that the debate in Truckee could serve as a preview of challenges that will confront governments of all sizes in the near future:

"It is one vote by one little utility district, but it really boils down a lot of the issues going on in the nation,'' said Jamie Bate, editor of the local newspaper, the Sierra Sun. ...

Two marathon public hearings have featured one speaker who passed a globe around the standing-room-only crowd to remind people of the significance of the decision and a 15-year-old who admonished the board that today's pollution will haunt his generation. One employee of the utility district who has publicly spoken out against the project cleared out his office this week and is working from home, saying he was uncomfortable among his colleagues who favor the idea.

"It has become very emotional," noted Tim Taylor, an engineer and member of the board that will vote Wednesday on the power plant deal.

The board is considering a 50-year contract that would help finance the new power plant, supplying Truckee with much of the electricity it needs. Proponents of the idea note that power could flow for as little as $35 per megawatt, about half the current price on the power market.

But the plant would use coal to turn the turbines that generate electricity and is expected to emit as much as 7.5 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year. That's the equivalent of 1.3 million cars.

Additionally, the board must decide quickly, as a new California law set to go into effect on January 1st (signed about the same time as the state's greenhouse gas initiative) would prevent the town from entering into such an agreement after that date. The economics are complicated: many residents want the cheap power, but others point out that the town relies on the winter tourist trade for income, and snow levels have already started to fall during the past few seasons.

We wish the residents of Truckee well in this important debate, and hope they can find a "win-win" situation. Whether they want to or not, this tiny utility district with about 13,000 customers may set a precedent for other towns looking to meet economic and environmental needs. ::San Francisco Chronicle

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