Before millions of dollars are pumped into bringing Lafayette’s aging coal plant back to federal standards, a group of residents is asking city-parish officials to consider the alternatives, i.e., renewables.
The project being spearheaded by Lafayette Consolidated Government involves an investment of more than $140 million to bring the aging Rodemacher II coal plant in line with new federal standards that are set to take effect in two years.
Yet some residents are voicing concerns that the project fails to address the bigger picture and will ultimately prove a waste of public funds.
Both sides of the argument were presented in recent months during two public forums organized by the League of Voters of Lafayette and the Sierra Club Acadian Group.
Lafayette Utilities System Director Terry Huval has played a key role in pushing forward the Rodemacher II overhaul, and was the featured presenter for the first of the “Powering Lafayette’s Electrical Future” forums on Sept. 12.
An alternative to Huval’s plan was presented at the second forum on Dec. 6 by Lafayette resident Simon Mahan, a renewables advocate who also works for the nonprofit industry watchdog Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Mahan and a growing number of Lafayette residents are now calling for LCG to halt the Rodemacher II upgrades, and instead invest in wind, solar and advanced natural gas technologies.
Shortly after Mahan and other supporters unveiled their alternative plan, The Daily Advertiser came out in support of the Rodemacher II upgrades in a Dec. 13 editorial, arguing that from an economic perspective, coal will be something of a necessary evil for Lafayette.
“Sometimes, a compromise between what is best for the environment and what is best economically is called for,” writes TDA’s editorial staff. “Of course, many of the alternative energy sources are far cleaner [than coal], and in a perfect world would be the natural choice.
But at this point in time, they are not as feasible or as cost-effective as coal.”
And according to Huval, it may be too late to put the brakes on the upgrades. On Dec. 11 he told ABiz part of the project, a $14 million endeavor that will reduce the plant’s nitrogen oxide emissions down to EPA standards, has already begun and should be complete by summer. Likewise, the council recently approved the sale of $65 million in bonds for the second phase of the project, estimated at $130 million, which will drastically reduce the plant’s mercury emissions. The remaining costs, Huval says, will come from funds left over from a 2007 bond sale of $35 million, originally issued to cover the costs of switching to lighter aluminum rail cars.
“For us to invest in these other technologies would require a new debt, and a new debt would require us increasing customer costs to be able to pay for it,” argues Huval. “I think bringing Rodemacher up to EPA standards will be the best avenue for Lafayette. It’ll be the lowest cost, and it’ll put us in environmental compliance. We just finished paying the 30-year bond, so once these upgrades are finished [Rodemacher] will be in the top 10 percent of cleanest coal plants in the country.”
Yet, according to Norma Dugas, clerk of the Lafayette council, Huval is only half correct in saying the time has passed for reconsidering the Rodemacher II overhaul.
Dugas says although the state’s bond commission signed off on the sale of the $65 million in bonds back in October, the council must still give its final stamp of approval before the project can move forward. That council vote was slated for Dec. 18, four days after this story went to press.