BY MICHAEL WALTON
TRAVERSE CITY —
A coalition of Michigan electric utilities that includes Cherryland Electric Cooperative received a permit extension for the construction of a contested coal plant project, but utility officials are not saying if they intend to follow through with construction.
Cadillac-based Wolverine Power Cooperative seemed ready to drop plans for its planned Rogers City coal plant after it acquired a minority interest in Wisconsin Energy Corporation's Presque Isle Power Plant in November.
But on Dec. 18 the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality extended a permit for installation of the coal plant. The permit would have expired on Dec. 29.
Nancy Tanner, a spokeswoman for Wolverine, said the extension does not mean Wolverine has decided to construct the plant.
"Wolverine hasn't made a decision to move forward and before proceeding would evaluate the project to ensure it is a competitive power supply option," she said.
Wolverine pursued the coal plant idea to secure a long-term power supply on behalf of a coalition of rural electric cooperatives, including Cherryland and Great Lakes Energy.
Mark Wilson, Cherryland's chief financial officer, said he did not know of immediate plans to construct the Rogers City plant, but the extension prevents Wolverine from outright losing its permit.
"It's always kind of nice to have this in your back pocket," he said.
Wilson added it's too early in the planning process to say how a Wolverine plant in Rogers City would affect monthly power bills for Cherryland customers.
But he predicted Wolverine's acquisition of a minority interest in the Presque Isle plant, located in Marquette, will stabilize rates for Wolverine consumers. Wolverine can use power generated at the plant instead of buying power from other generation sources.
Andrew Armstrong, a staff attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said the joint venture with Wisconsin Energy demonstrates Wolverine already addressed any needs for extra power.
"The (Rogers City) plant is unnecessary and uneconomical, so Wolverine should abandon the project," he said.
Several environmental groups have appealed the extension of the Rogers City permit. The groups argue, among other things, that MQED did not consider new federal environmental regulations before granting the extension.