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Power plant under pressure

November 20, 2001|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

Federal and local officials put pressure on the builder of a Mexicali power-generating plant Monday to increase its air pollution controls.

Emissions from two power plants being built across the border in Mexico would pose a serious health threat to people on both sides of the border, stated a report by the county's Air Pollution Control District last spring.

Intergen Aztec Energy of Boston is building a 750-megawatt power plant in Mexicali. According to a letter from the air district, only two of four turbines at Intergen's La Rosita Power Complex will have air-pollution controls installed.

Another 600-megawatt power plant being built by San Diego-based Sempra Energy International will have air-pollution controls on all its turbines.

Sempra spokesman Michael Clark said his company is building the power plant in Mexico to meet California air standards.

"We held Intergen's feet to the fire," county Supervisor Hank Kuiper said of discussions at Monday's meeting. "It got down to brass tacks. We asked Intergen if Sempra can do this, why can't you?"

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"There were no offers by Intergen to install control devices on the other two turbines," Air Pollution Control Officer Stephen Birdsall said.

During the meeting, Intergen claimed its 25-year contract to sell electricity to Mexico locks it into a certain price with a slim profit. The company claims the slim profit margin leaves it with little room to add expensive air pollution control equipment, Kuiper said.

The plants are part of a project to import electricity to California from power-generating plants along the border in Mexico. Air-pollution control standards are lower in Mexico than in the U.S.

"We had an interesting exchange of views," said Phillip Cantner, vice president of Latin American development for Intergen.

Cantner said Intergen met with U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, before Monday's meeting, but there is still a lot of work to do. He would not go into detail about what that work would be.

The county has no power to stop construction of power plants in Mexico. Kuiper organized the meeting between Intergen, Sempra and federal, state and local representatives to start discussions on the power plants' air-pollution controls.

Hunter, representatives from the U.S. and state Departments of Energy, and Julieta Sanchez, Baja California governor's office assistant for international relations, were among those attending the closed meeting.

The air pollution district's short-term goal is to get Intergen to put air-pollution control devices on all its turbines at La Rosita, Birdsall said.

Hunter said the long-term goal is to establish a single air-quality standard for the air basin on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The process would have to be worked out at the executive level with Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, Hunter said. He said he is going to meet with Abraham in Washington, D.C., within the next few weeks.

There is evidence that more power-generating plants will be built on the border in Mexico, Birdsall said.

"Their profits are good, but profits shouldn't be borne on the back of people's health," he said.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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