Healy plant could lose clean-burning technology

Posted: Wednesday, March 08, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Healy Clean Coal Project was intended to be a prototype of the coal plant of the future, but an agreement is in the works to replace the experimental technology with conventional burners.

The deal between the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which owns the plant, and Golden Valley Electric Association could be signed this week.

AIDEA and Golden Valley would split the estimated $26 million expense to retrofit the plant, a job that would take up to two years to complete.

Randy Simmons, AIDEA's executive director, said the agency's share would not exceed $20.5 million. Golden Valley would be obligated to repay the authority over 37 years, he said.

AIDEA sold $85 million in bonds and spent millions more on the 50-megawatt plant. Funding also came from Golden Valley and other partners.

The biggest financial boost was a $117 million grant from the federal Department of Energy that required the Healy plant to test experimental combustors to determine whether they burn coal more cleanly than conventional plants.

Golden Valley had a contract to run the experimental plant and use its electricity. The Fairbanks-based utility was also to pay AIDEA about $4.4 million a year to cover AIDEA's initial investment.

But Golden Valley sued AIDEA two years ago, claiming the plant was a failure. Last fall, an independent engineer gave the Healy plant a mixed review. The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard this month in state Superior Court.

Some critics worry a retrofit would cause the plant to release more pollution near Denali National Park and Preserve's pristine wilderness.

''We will definitely have a problem if they take out technology that was supposed to scrub pollutants from stack emissions and replace it with stuff that doesn't do as good of a job,'' said Peter Van Tuyn, litigation director for the Trustees for Alaska, an Anchorage-based environmental law firm.

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