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Louisiana’s Proposed Natural Gas Plant Draws Criticism

The natural gas-fired power plant would provide reliable and cheap power to five rural electrical co-ops through 2045, but critics say the plant’s reliance on fossil fuels is contradictory to the state’s climate goals.

(TNS) — The natural gas-fired Magnolia Power Generating Station proposed for Iberville Parish, La., would be an important cog in a plan by five rural Louisiana electrical cooperatives to provide reliable, cheap electricity through 2045, backers say. Its critics have concerns.

State utility regulators recently gave their nod to the groundbreaking 20-year power plan for the co-ops' 119,000 customers that, in addition to Magnolia Power, would count on renewable energy in a big way.

Under the new deal, more than a third of the power would come from renewable sources, but local environmental groups say the plan isn't doing enough with renewables given the grave threat that global climate change poses for south Louisiana.

Building a new $750 million fossil fuel-reliant power plant, these critics say, would contradict the central goal of Gov. John Bel Edwards' climate task force — net zero carbon emissions by 2050 — by permitting a new greenhouse gas emissions source and potentially locking in those emissions through 2045.

Though the financial backers of the plant say it could be switched to hydrogen fuel that they argue would be carbon-free, these critics says the details of when and how that switch would happen are vague and not included in regulatory filings.

"We're saying they should go all renewable, and, if they've got to go with this natural gas plant, they need to really seriously talk about reducing emissions from the plant and ... give us details about this idea that they're going to go 100 percent hydrogen, a fuel that no place in the world is currently doing 50 percent," said Darryl Malek-Wiley, a senior organizing representative for the Sierra Club in New Orleans. "It's a test plant, and we don't know what that involves."

Under Edwards, Louisiana has proposed a rarity for the Deep South: a plan to cut the state's fossil fuel emissions either by eliminating those sources, offsetting them or storing them underground in a bid to slow global climate change.

A scientific consensus has concluded that emissions from burning fossil fuels is sending more heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. The gases are raising overall global temperatures and setting off dynamic changes to the climate, ice caps and glaciers that are inducing sea level rise, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Much of south Louisiana could see 1.5 feet of sea level rise by 2050 and, in the worst case, up to 7 feet by 2100, the IPCC found.

Some of the Edwards task force's early central planks involve ending greenhouse gas emissions from two major sources: electrical power generation and Louisiana's energy-hungry industrial sector, which has boomed in recent years on the tide of cheap, natural gas.

Renewables A Priority, Not A Top One



The criticism from environmentalists on the electrical cooperatives' plan, which does take a step toward renewable energy, highlights some of the difficult back-and-forth this oil-reliant state may face as industries, power plants and the public consider changing how their world is powered and moved.

Kyle Marionneaux, an attorney for the co-op organization, known as the 1803 Electric Cooperative Inc., said the co-ops took bidders for their power plan and a fully renewable option didn't win out. The group's members include SLECA and Washington-St. Tammany Electric Cooperative.

"1803 did consider a portfolio without any carbon emitting generation as part of the final portfolio selection; however, the technology is not capable of providing carbon free power without major cost increases," Marionneaux wrote in an email Friday.

Even still, under that failed proposal, "large amounts of 'carbon-made' power would be purchased from the grid under this scenario," he added.

The first priority for the plan, in fact, was reliable service at low cost, followed by minimizing the rate impacts of market volatility and future environmental regulations.

The use of renewables was the ninth of the top 10 priorities for the plan, which wouldn't start until 2025 when coops' contracts with Cleco Cajun expire.

The Magnolia Power plant, which would be built on the west bank of the Mississippi River southeast of Plaquemine, would be a big part of ensuring reliability along with other contracts that rely on fossil fuels.

As an added benefit, the new plant would also have the lowest greenhouse gas output of any gas- or coal-fired plant in Louisiana or on the grid, Marionneaux said.

"When Magnolia Power's plant achieves commercial operation, it will be the most efficient electricity generator in the state of Louisiana," said Jon Baylor, a senior vice president for Kindle Energy, which is behind the 700-megawatt plant. "For that reason, the plant is expected to displace coal and other low efficiency generation technologies in the generation market, thereby reducing carbon emissions across the state of Louisiana."

Even still, the Magnolia Power plant would be permitted to generate an estimated 2.5 million tons of greenhouse gases per year.

The Methanex methanol complex in Geismar, for example, is permitted to release about the same amount of greenhouse gases annually.

Renewable and Reliable?



Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University researcher who has used modeling to predict how states could switch fully to renewable power, said he and others have found a complete change to a stable grid based on renewable energy is more attainable and affordable than many realize.

By ramping up offshore wind turbines, roof-top solar panels, distributed battery storage, transmission improvements and other additions, Jacobson and other researchers found a full switch in the U.S. could be made at a cost of up to $11 trillion. It would be paid back with energy sales and the cost savings from not making the transition.

In a paper released late last year, the researchers found interconnections among larger and larger regions made power supply smoother and cheaper by tying into a wider array of renewable sources that often complement one another.

"You don't need fossil fuels to back up renewables at all. There's plenty of existing low-cost storage, and batteries are pretty low cost for what you need," he said.

Jacobson pointed out that California has already established more than 1.7 gigawatts of battery storage. A South Australian power user says it has saved $40 million in the first year of use of a large Tesla battery complex.

Wiley, the Sierra Club official, and others raised their concerns about the Magnolia Power plant during a recent public hearing in Plaquemine for the plant's proposed air permit.

In recent years under Edwards, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality officials routinely declined to deny or even pare back greenhouse gas emissions for major new industrial projects.

They often cited a lack of federal guidance and argued that the global impact of greenhouse gas emissions undermines the effectiveness and wisdom of halting projects that are economically beneficial on the local level.

DEQ officials said Friday they are reviewing all comments before a final decision.


(c)2022 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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