Case Study Analysis of Proposed Coburg Power Plant

A real issue has now arisen which fits in well with the goals of this class. Therefore, today, we will consider ourselves as an environmental consulting company, hired to offer an objective cost-benefit analysis of the proposed new power plant in Coburg.

Our task is really to design an instrument or data to be acquired in order to do this, based on the input of the proponents and the opponents of this project.

So, here we go. (note: the source of this material is the Feb 22 op-ed piece by Gary Marcus in the Register Guard as the proponent and the Feb 25 advertisement in the RG against this power plant by a private citizen, Tom Lininger, who used to be a former county commissioner).

Proponent Position:

  1. We need electrical power plants in the Willamette Valley

      Lane County utilites produce 250 Megawatts of Firm power at any one time; yet we use 875 Megawatts of peak demand. are these number reasonable? How can we verify them? Does anything seem strange here?

  2. New Power plants in Eastern Oregon require expensive new power lines Again, is this a reasonable statement/criteria to argue for local power production as opposed to remote production and delivery?

  3. Renewable energy can't provide all the electricity we need True of False? How would we evaluate this claim?

    The facilitity will sell electricity to local utilities not to California Why does this even matter? Why is this a criteria?

    Air emissions will meet every federal standard Again, how would we evaluate/test this statement?

    Water comes from an industrial water right and local farmers will benefit

      Water gets to the Coburg site from the Mckenzie river thorugh the Muddy Creeks Irrigation Project, an existing farmers cooperative.

      If power plant is approved, the $1 million dollars needed to upgrade fish screens and to fix leaks in the extant canal will be borne by the power plant.

      Installation of new variable speed pumps will increase efficiency of water use by farmers.

      In the winter, water would be drawn from muddy creek, not mckenzie and thus decrease flooding of muddy creek.

    Is this "tangential" benefit an important consideration? Is it really a benefit? What are the downsides to altering water management via routing some of it through the power plant?

    The plant will provide high paying local jobs Again, is this an important criteria? Should we build facilities for this reason?

    The plant will pay millions of dollars in property tax Again, important or not?

    Our economy will benefit How do you measure this? How do you know? Is this just smoke and mirrors?

    Our project will meet every state and federal pollution control requirement True or False?

What critical pieces of information are left out of the proponents statement?

Opponents Charges:

This is where we want to discriminate and show the difference between objective criticism and scare tactics.

  1. The proposed power plant, 900 Megawatts is "large scale" and is similar to the "Trojan Nuclear Plant" which was 1130 Megawatts?

    Yes this is true, but why make this particular reference?

  2. The plant will emit 110 million tons of carbon dioxide over its 30 year lifetime. we can all agree that the plant would generate a hugh amount of CO2 True or False? How do we put this number in better perspective?

  3. The plant would emits lesser amounts of other pollutants including nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, arsenic, formaldehyde and mercury. So?

  4. The amount of pollution produced by a gas-fired plant depends on the amount of power the plant generates, Its important to calibrate the size of the new gas-fired plant to meet, but not exceed, the projected increase in local demand for power.

    The demand for power in Lane County will increase by 175 megawatts over the next 20 years. We assume Linn counties demand will be 1/3 of Lane Counties and therefore total demand will increase by 235 megawatts over 20 years. Yet, the proposal is to build a 900 Megawatt facility. Are these reasonable numbers? Is this a valid argument that the 900 MW capacity is overkill for regional use?

  5. The Proponents of the Coburg Power plant are trying to sell some of its output to buyers outside of Linn and Lane Counties True or False?

Concluded opponent arguments based on the above:

1. The plant is overkill we don't need 900 MW but the pollution associated with 900 MW will remain in the area.

2. Why should we pollute our local air shed, where air quality is already poor, to generate power for faraway communities in the Willamette Valley. Why should Lane County pull Portland's weight? If Portland needs new power, let Portland build a gas plant in its own backyard. Is this a logical argument? What's the larger implication if we buy into this?

3. The whole PNW will need 3,000 MW of new power in the next 10 years. Does it make sense for the Coburg power plant to provide 1/3 of the new power needed by the entire region when the residents of Lane and Linn counties make up less than 5% of the combined population in Oregon and Washington? Again, is this really a valid argument?

4. Lane county needs to import 525 MW of power in peak demand times from BPA. But we can always do this. The relevant number is therefore the extra power for Lane county. We project this at 175 MWs. This does not justify the need for a 900 MW power plant. Is this argument valid? Are there voodoo economics involved here? What is being left out?

5. The plant only provides significantly new jobs in its construction, not in its operation.

6. Mr. Marcus asserts taht his plant would produce less than 1% of the total air pollution in Lane County. This argument is not persuasive for 2 reasons:

7. The plant's 195-foot stacks -- taller than the Statue of Liberty -- would be an eyesore in north Lane County. Part of the plant would emit a large plume thus obscuring vistas of the federally protected three sisters wildnerness area ???

8. Thousands of gallons of water would pass through the plant every minute. Residents are worried about the quality of the discharged water.

Summary statement:

In sum, the residents of north Lane County have good reasons for opposing the plan to build a 900 MW power plant in the Coburg area. This plant would be far larger than necessary to meet the projected increase in power demand for Lane and Linn counties. Our local air shed wuold be stuck with the pollution from the plant, but much of the power would likely be sold to buyers outside of Lane and Linn counties

Is this a reasonable and objective basis for forming a position against the power plant? If not, what would be such a basis?