By RICHARD BURGESS
October 04, 2012
LAFAYETTE — The City-Parish Council on Tuesday approved borrowing up to $88 million to make upgrades to a coal-burning power plant that serves Lafayette, despite calls from some residents to explore environmentally friendly alternatives for generating the city’s electricity.
Lafayette has natural gas power plants within the city limits, but about 60 percent of the city’s power travels down transmission lines from a coal-fired plant near Boyce that Lafayette owns jointly with CLECO and the Louisiana Energy and Power Authority.
The council voted unanimously to borrow money for the upgrades there, which are needed to comply with stricter federal pollution regulations on coal-burning power plants.
A group of 10 residents asked the council to delay a decision on the coal plant upgrades to allow for more discussion of alternative sources of energy, including solar, wind and high-efficiency natural gas power plants.
“We want to talk about getting off of coal. Coal is an outdated, inefficient and environmentally damaging technology,” Lafayette resident Haywood Martin said.
Martin said the council’s move to borrow the $88 million essentially locks Lafayette into coal power for the 19-year term of the bonds being sold to fund the project.
“I think renewable is something that is just going all over the world and we are getting left behind in the United States,” said Sarah Schoeffler, who described coal power as “a backwards way of continuing to do our utilities.”
Lafayette Utilities System Director Terry Huval said the city-owned utility service is open to studying alternative energy sources in the future but that any major shift away from coal would be expensive and unworkable in the short term.
“If the community wants to pursue that, we are very interested in pursuing that, but those are all high-cost alternatives,” Huval said.
Some residents suggested relying more on natural gas, generally considered a more environmentally friendly fuel for electric plants.
Huval said natural gas prices, though low at this time, have in the past been unstable and can rise or fall unexpectedly.
“The cost of delivered coal tends to remain very stable over the long run,” Huval said. “… Even at today’s lower natural gas prices, it is still cheaper to generate power with our coal plant.”
Huval said the city is also facing a tight timeline to make the environmental upgrades at the coal plant near Boyce and must have much of the work completed by 2015.