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California skeptical of energy purchases from coal-burning power plants

Published: Thursday September 14, 2006

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According to a report in tomorrow's New York Times (reg. req.), California has imposed stringent environment criteria on its energy suppliers which could affect plans to build more than 20 new coal-burning power plants in the desert Southwest and Rocky Mountain states.

Unless these plants keep their emissions of greenhouse gases to an absolute minimum, California will not buy their power, a move that is already stirring up controversy.



"When your biggest customer says, 'I ain't buying,' you rethink," said Hal Harvey, the environment program director at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, in Menlo Park, Calif. "When you have 38 million customers you don't have access to, you rethink. Selling to Phoenix is nice. Las Vegas is nice. But they aren't California."

The state's aim is to reduce emissions of climate-changing gases produced by burning coal, oil and gas. Other states, particularly New York, are moving in some of the same directions, but no state is moving as aggressively on as many fronts. No state has been at it longer. No state is putting more at risk.

Whether all this is visionary or deluded depends on one's perspective. This is the state that in the early 1970s jump-started the worldwide adoption of catalytic converters, the devices that neutralize most smog-forming chemicals emitted by tailpipes. This is the state whose per capita energy consumption has been almost flat for 30 years, even as per capita consumption has risen 50 percent nationally.

California, in fact, is making a huge bet: that it can reduce emissions without wrecking its economy, and therefore inspire other states -- and countries -- to follow its example on slowing climate change.