Alaskans protest coal-fired power plant

Chanting "No coal! No secrets!" through their face masks, more than 75 protesters demonstrated in Homer, Alaska, on Wednesday against a new deal that would commit Homer Electric Association to buying half the future output of a coal-fired power plant.

The protesters questioned the economic projections and lack of public input in the agreement, which was announced last week by HEA, the Fairbanks electric utility and the state's Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA). Protesters complained the deal requires HEA to buy power for an unknown price, in a future when costs of burning coal will rise because of environmental regulations.

The Healy plant was built with some $300 million in state and federal funds in the 1990s and never generated power after a testing phase. Golden Valley Electric Association of Fairbanks refused to run the plant, saying its technology to scrub out pollutants that cause acid rain didn't work.

After nearly a decade of legal wrangling, HEA stepped forward in 2006 and offered to buy the power from AIDEA. But Golden Valley still held an interest and ultimately rejected the 2006 plan. Fairbanks interest in the Healy plant had revived as oil prices increased. Under the new deal, AIDEA would sell the plant to Golden Valley for $50 million and lend the utility $45 million to cover restart costs.

Announcing the deal Jan. 14, state Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin said it would end litigation and get an idled plant back into making electricity.

Critics of the deal complained that former Golden Valley executives now working for the state helped push the deal. Galvin denies that.

The plant was built to take care of acid rain pollutants that come from burning coal. But it doesn't scrub out mercury, a toxic element that settles into water and accumulates in fish. And like all other coal-fired power plants in the United States, it doesn't remove carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas causing Earth's climate to change.

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