False Pretenses

The Great Corette Cover-up

There is a giant fiction, a myth, being perpetrated by the Republicans and by PP&L (the big national power generating company) during this campaign season. They are trying persuade voters that the closure of a coal-fired plant in Billings, the Corette Power Plant, is due to new EPA mercury standards.  Supposedly, the fiction goes, these standards are just too onerous and forced PP&L to shut down the plant.

It fits nicely into the GOP’s “too many regulations are killing jobs,” but is nonsense. PP&L has announced plans to shut down the plant in 2015 because they are now able to generate power at a fraction of the rate by using natural gas, which is cheaper now than it has been in 20 years and much cheaper than coal. PP&L provides power wholesale to utility companies like Northwestern Energy who then sell it retail to consumers.  PP&L benefits financially by generating its power as cheaply as possible.

PP&L has actually stated in its own SEC filings that the coal plant is closing because power can be generated more cheaply with PPL’s natural gas plants.

Nevertheless, Republicans and conservative blogs have seized on the recent claims by PP&L that it is shutting down the Billings Corette Power Plant due to mercury regulations and, of all things, wind energy tax credits.

Never mind that mercury is a known neurotoxin that impairs brain development in fetuses (so much for that ‘pro-life’ stance.)  And never mind that Mercury in fish from Montana lakes and streams is now a big problem in Montana–even in areas like Glacier National Park.  What’s more important is that PP&L, a corporation that supports mostly Republicans in Congress and in Montana, use this economic situation as a way to make up fake claims about “regulations killing jobs.”  That’s corporate America for you.

Indeed, PP&L has contributed $10,000 to Denny Rehberg, and millions to conservative candidates.



23 Comments on "False Pretenses"

  1. The timing of the mothballing announcement is an attempt to influence the election by driving a wedge between labor and clean energy advocates.

  2. This is one of the companies that is refusing to pay its taxes, depriving local schools of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

  3. So, nobody has picked up on the irony of natural gas prices dropping because of evil fracking, therefore rendering coal uncompetitive — ESPECIALLY with the additional tariff from the BART standards?
    If Greens had been successful in tarring and feathering fracking for petroleum, coal would still be competitive.
    But James, you’re right again. Unions need to understand the enviro-Left will kill them as soon as operating and other private-sector unions are no longer useful to the cause of destroying industrial America.

  4. Travis Kavulla, chairman of the PSC, chimes in:

  5. There is certainly another angle to PPL’s motives – increasing their bargaining power with NorthWestern Energy. Back in 2005 or 2006, PPL agreed to sell a fixed amount of energy to northWestern Energy for 7 years as part of a quasi settlement regarding PPL’s monopoly power in Montana. That contract expires fully in 2014. By reducing it’s capacity, JE Corette is the only plant it can unilaterally shut down, PPL reduces the amount of energy that it must sell on the market, which could increases the price for NorthWestern Energy rate payers.

  6. I don’t know why this comes as a surprise to anyone. PP&L has been talking about converting to NG plants for years. It was a lucky coincidence that they could use this move to try to get Conservatives elected. Sadly, their argument will sway those too uninformed to know better.

    It is actually a good thing for environmentalists. NG plants are far less poluting then coal plants. It is likely that we will see a large shift to NG in the next decade due to many factors.

    • But, BUT, BUT, FOSSIL FUELS!!!!

      Political tactic or not, it might still work, in part because ‘all or nothing’ environmentalism still works to dissuade voters.

    • Steve Daines is already repeating the company line. In the last debate he took the opportunity to blame the EPA. Even though what’s at work here is te companies own free market decision.

      • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers | October 4, 2012 8:01 AM at 8:01 AM |

        OF COURSE! Little stevey is an upstanding member of the good ol’ boys club! Just look at the little dude. A little upright male member if there ever WAS one! He’s on corporate viagra!……and it shows.

  7. So, if coal-fired power plants are naturally disappearing due to market conditions anyway, then why does the EPA still need to press forward with these new regulations on coal-fired power plants? If the market, and not the new EPA regulations, is causing these shutdowns- and this is all just a conspiracy to elect Republicans…why doesn’t the EPA call the coal companies’ alleged bluff and shelve the new regulations? What about the regional haze ruling in addition? Gov Schweitzer has been critical of the EPA on that front as well- in fact (speaking of mercury as well) he pointed out that any potential haze in Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks certainly isn’t by and large coming from Colstrip.

    My thoughts- why not develop more of our transportation sector utilizing cleaner burning abundant natural gas, and utilize the coal for electricity?

    • You question is loaded as you well know, Aaron.

      1) The EPA regulations should go forward because they address a real environmental issue – the largest being mercury. As long as coal plants exist (and they will continue to exist for the foreseeable future), those regulations will limit the amount of that toxic substance being introduced to the environment.

      2) Conspiracy? I don’t recall anyone here claiming a conspiracy. I did say (and will stand behind it) that those that will benefit from misinforming the public will continue to do so. If a candidate (and since the ones doing it are Republican so I will say “Republican Candidate”) thinks that they can fool the public into believing that the plants are being closed because of Regulations – primarily because that candidate is running on a platform of “too many regulations” – they will do so. Truth in campaigns is a thing of the past and that is not just a problem on the Republican side. If you are naive enough to believe that candidates tell the truth and only the truth, you are dumber than I was led to believe you were.

      3) I am unaware of the Governor’s comments on the “Haze” issue, but the issue is a documented fact. It is also a documented fact that the coal plants have a great deal to do with it. Before you bring up the Red Herring of the forest fire smoke, be aware that the issue has already been complete debunked here in a previous discussion. Forest Fire smoke and the “haze” from the coal plants are too entirely different things and the negative effects on the environment (and people) are also well documented.

      I have to ask, Aaron… What is your motivation to continue the misdirection? I have been led to believe that you are actually a pretty intellegent guy. I have to say I am somewhat disappointed in your reply.

      As far as your last statement, until “clean coal” becomes a reality instead of the pipe dream it is now, I would love to see every coal plant die a painful and swift death. I recognise the need for cheap, abundant electricity, but poisoning our environment to get it is an idea that the majority of the country moved away from back when Nixon was President. There are far better ways to generate electricity that do not poison the environment as much as coal and we should be agressively pursuing those, not building new coal plants.

      On the other hand, cars running off natural gas is actually an idea that has been around for decades. In the 80’s, I drove a truck that could run off either NG or LP. It was less polluting than a gasoline truck and if I could purchase the LP gas when the prices were seasonally down, less expensive to run. I think the only reason that they are not available now is that it is difficult to ensure that the vehicle won’t explode if it is in an accident.

      • Ha- you better check your source on this comment: “I have been led to believe that you are actually a pretty intellegent guy.”

        Just asking a dumb question- if the plants are going to close anyway, as suggested above, then why do we need to add even more regulations to block emissions from something that is already regulated and destined to close?

        • Fallacy of over generalization, Aaron.

          And for the record, I could be a source that thinks you’re a pretty intelligent guy. You just don’t always act that way. But then again, none of us are 100%.

    • It’s called math. 40 percent of our power still comes from coal. So the EPA’s safety protections are obviously still needed.

  8. Montana Power wanted to shut this plant down a long time ago. They sold the Byrd(sp?)Plant and tore it down and sold the parts for a tidy profit. and at the time, they were considering doing the same for this plant. Ask anyone of the folks that do periodic maintenance on this piece of shit and they would have told you that it was just a matter of time before it failed altogether.
    Oh, but it is just great fodder for the loud mouthed candidates running for public office.
    Time to start interviewing the folks at Right Now Tech to see how big an asshole Daines was while he was working there.

  9. These Plants have a 25 year life expectancy. what that means is that They are expected to last that long , Same as expecting a car to last 160,000 miles . From then on the company has to evaluate every years if it is worth replacing and rebuilding components or scrapping it out. exactly like a car. Now that this plant is over 40 years old its like a car with over 300,000 miles on it. The clean air act stated new plants built after the early 90’s had to meet the highest emission control standards and these old plants would have to be brought up to the same standards when they would receive life extending maintenance similar to a car getting heads rebuilt or new rings, W. Bush screwed this up by fixing the rules so these old plants have slipped by with little emissions control upgrade for the last 20 years . Obama is now requiring these old plants to do what they were suppose to do many years ago under Bush.

    In any other industry these old boilers would have been scrapped years ago but they keep them limping along because they didn’t have to clean them up ( the crap that comes out of them is measured in deaths and sickness by the EPA) . The other reason they will mothball this piece of crap is that environmentalists compromised from wanting a carbon tax to agreeing to the industries preferred cap and trade. Under cap and trade PPL would shut this plant down in a heart beat and receive 10’s of millions of dollars in carbon credits for years. Sadly that’s why probably a third of these 40+ year old plants are still limping along killing the very old with lung and heart problems and the very young with asthma. Power companies are waitng for cap and trade so they can extort money from us to not kill our old and our young, they are truly evil folks.

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