By D. Mitch Robinson
A proposed 550-megawatt natural gas-fired electric generating plant near Cape Girardeau has sparked a lot of debate in recent weeks. Unfortunately, a great deal of information being paraded as fact is either misleading or downright wrong. If the community is to engage in a productive discussion about the merits of such a project, the public must have the facts.
Last week, Gerald Jones, presiding commissioner of Cape Girardeau County, and Larry Bock and Joe Gambill, associate commissioners, and I, along with two individuals representing concerned citizens from around the proposed plant site visited Kinder Morgan Power Co.'s Fort Lupton, Colo., power plant, which is very similar to the one being proposed for Cape Girardeau County. We were able to get many of the questions answered from company officials that are of concern to area residents.
First, there are those who believe the county will provide tax dollars to fund the project. Nothing could be further from the truth. Using a common funding mechanism called Chapter 100 bonds, the county will negotiate a grant agreement with Kinder Morgan on behalf of the local citizenry. The county will issue bonds for the project cost. Over a period of 10 to 15 years, Kinder Morgan will repay those funds.
Simply put, the county's credit is not behind the issuance of those bonds. Reimbursement and any liability falls completely on the shoulders of Kinder Morgan, and bondholders will have no recourse against the county.
During the life of the bonds, the Delta School District will receive millions in additional funds that it would never receive without the investment by Kinder Morgan.
Chapter 100 bonds are often used to attract and keep businesses that provide important jobs and tax revenue, and they're certainly nothing new to us in Cape Girardeau County. For a prime example, one need only look as far as the Procter & Gamble Paper Products plant.
In addition to producing significant tax revenue for the county, the proposed Kinder Morgan plant will create hundreds of construction jobs for two years, as well as more than 20 full-time positions, bringing millions of dollars of new income into the community.
The plant's impact on the environment also has been questioned. Specific allegations suggest the facility will drain local water wells dry. This claim is unfounded and not supported by scientific fact. Water for the power facility will come from a zone that ranges from 1,200 to 1,600 feet deep where there is plenty of water. Residential wells, which provide the community's water supply, are no deeper than 400 feet and are replenished with rainwater that eventually permeates its way down to the deeper zones. To ensure that its neighbors will not see any negative effects from the plant, Kinder Morgan has retained independent third-party experts to conduct a comprehensive testing program utilizing sophisticated computer modeling to study hydrology and design issues.
The bottom line is the community's water supply and the wells in the area should not be negatively impacted. Kinder Morgan has assured county leaders that it will re-drill wells in proximity to the plant should any unexpected circumstances arise as a result of the company's operations.
Potential impact on air quality also has been raised as an issue. Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel available and is the fuel of choice for new power plants across the country. The plant being proposed by Kinder Morgan will meet and exceed all federal and state air-quality standards. After seeing the Fort Lupton plant firsthand, the county commissioners believe there would be no adverse impact on Cape Girardeau County.
As has been stated before, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources will make the final decision on permitting the plant. The county commission believes this proposed plant would be a positive addition to the county. We will await DNR's decision.
Finally, the notion that the plant is being built to supply electricity for other states is misguided. According to Kinder Morgan, facilities like the one being proposed are engineered to serve local markets. In fact, the power plant is being sited in Missouri specifically to gain access to the Cape Girardeau and St. Louis markets, which have a need for more electricity to support economic growth and new industry for the area.
Kinder Morgan already has an identical plant under construction in Arkansas, plans another one in Illinois and even has sites in Kansas and Oklahoma. However, design and capacity limitations of the current electric transmission system make serving customers in the Cape Girardeau-St. Louis area from these plants unfeasible, if not impossible.
This is an important project for the area. Citizens as well as elected officials have a right and a responsibility to fully explore its impact. This plant will put more people to work, generate additional tax dollars and improve the quality of education our children receive.
D. Mitch Robinson is the executive director of the Cape Girardeau Area Industrial Recruitment Association.