12/15/13

Ames Embraces the Natural Gas Boom

My latest story, published in the Sunday edition of the Ames Tribune, takes a look at the city council's recent decision to satisfy new and anticipated Environmental Protection Agency regulations by converting its main power plant units so they burn natural gas instead of coal. Ames' electric department didn't get into the fracking debate, athough a few residents did, but both were generally on board with an "interim" switch to a less polluting fossil fuel, a departure from decades of dependence on coal:
In 1896, Ames residents voted 298-40 in favor of a $12,000 bond to establish a city-owned power plant. 
By the turn of the century, the plant served 175 customers. Now it serves around 28,000. 
Throughout those nearly 120 years, one thing has remained constant: The plant has always used coal as its primary fuel. 
But that’s all changing now, in Ames and cities confronted with similar dilemmas around the United States. Strict EPA standards proposed in September have coal producers worried that building new coal-fired plants will become cost-prohibitive, while new regulations for existing plants could lead to an increasing number of cities abandoning coal for natural gas, as Ames is doing. 
In a fight for survival, the once-dominant coal industry has aggressively lobbied against the EPA regulations. In coal-rich states such as Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky, many blue-collar workers see coal not as a climate antagonist but as a guarantor of their livelihoods.
Read the rest here.

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