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E-M:/ Detroit News article - Conners Creek

Enviro-Mich message from Joy Strawser <mec@voyager.net>

Another View 
Detroit News, Thursday May 21, 1998

Edison’s Conners Creek is bad news 
By Lana Pollack

Detroit Edison, are you listening? A 1996 Public Service Commission
(PSC) survey revealed that Michigan customers want their utility
companies to spend more money on “controls to reduce air and water
pollution” (86 percent) and on energy conservation programs (83

So what did customer sensitive Detroit Edison do? Well, in 1996, Edison
killed its most effective energy conservation program. And now it wants
to reopen a moth-balled facility in Detroit, Conners Creek, which will
dump thousands of tons of noxious materials and greenhouse gases into
our air and water. Conners Creek, built just after World War II, hasn’t
had any pollution control improvements for 20 years and doesn’t come
close to meeting pollution standards for new utility plants.

The PSC warned years ago that without adequate conservation programs,
Edison would be coming up short on power. But the company waited until
March 31 to assert the brownout threat and file a request to bring this
dirty old coal-burning plant on line by June 1, causing one PSC
commissioner to remark “the timing of the motion is suspect at best.”

It’s too late to capture the conservation opportunities Edison lost
during the past years. And, for this summer, it’s too late to use clean
wind or solar power to back up our basic energy supplies. But it is not
too late to let Edison customers buy energy from suppliers that use
cleaner burning natural gas.

Detroit Edison has chosen to meet its paperwork requirements for Conners
Creek start-up by picking a route that avoids public notice and comment
for as long as possible. With PSC’s nod, the utility has passed its
first hurdle. Now it is the responsibility of state and county
environmental agencies to ensure that this old plant does not evade the
review and permitting processes for new emission control technologies.
Since Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara and Gov. John Engler are
both on the line in this election year, they may be particularly
inclined to insist on a fair and rigorous review of Conners Creek
environmental impacts.

Even without any investment in modern air pollution equipment, firing up
this old plant would not be without costs to Edison — and its
ratepayers. That’s why a big businesses coalition, ABATE, opposes the
plant start-up. ABATE is concerned that under proposed utility
deregulation, start-up costs could be considered “stranded” and end up
on the bottom lines of the ratepayers rather than the utility. Customers
as large as General Motors and as small as my 90-year-old aunt could be
made to pay for new gauges, monitors and coal handling equipment for
this old inefficient plant.

To add insult to injury, the Conners Creek plant would emit more
pollutants per megawatt than any other plant in Edison’s fleet. And its
neighborhood is right next to 55 new homes to be built by Habitat for
Humanity, hardly a way to welcome new homeowners striving to bring back
a struggling Detroit neighborhood.

The utility asserts it has to have this dirty old plant to avoid power
brownouts on high-use days — the same hot bad air days that already
plague southeast Michigan and downwind Ontario. I don’t want to sound
like an environmental scold — but the unavoidable truth is that
thousands of asthmatic children and older people with heart conditions
will be threatened by intensified air pollution on the hot, high ozone
days on which Edison says it will need to fire up Conners Creek. I have
lived with asthma and heart disease in my family, and I know just how
terrifying they are.

When it comes down to granting permits to operate Conners Creek,
McNamara and Engler may find it’s better to yield to their constituents
who don’t want to bear either the financial costs or health consequences
of adding yet another dirty old coal-burning, mercury-dropping,
smog-and-greenhouse-gas-blowing plant. A “no” now might be what Edison
needs to get it to invest in the cheapest power of all — what Amory
Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute calls the “negawatts” concept —
the “saved watt.” It’s also the healthiest and the politically smartest
to boot.

Lana Pollack is president of the Michigan Environmental Council. Write
letters to The Detroit News, Editorial Page, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit,
Mich. 48226, or fax us at (313) 222-6417, or send an e-mail to

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