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Scrapbook: Fighting For a Clean Energy Future in Southern Utah

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December 16, 2009

Fighting For a Clean Energy Future in Southern Utah

Kai-Reed

Before she was an environmental activist, Kai Reed operated her own fitness business, ran world-class ski events for the Park City Mountain Resort, and helped manage transportation logistics during the 2002 Salt Lake winter Olympics.

In 1998 she and her husband John moved to the rural community of Ivins in southern Utah, near the growing city of St. George, where she found her dream job of being a hiking and biking guide for a local fitness resort. She also served as chair of the St. George Sports & Events Committee, and created the Cactus Hugger 10k running race and the 3-day Cactus Hugging Cycling Festival.

These days Reed is the Administrative Director for Citizens for Dixie's Future (CDF), a grassroots coalition of citizens committed to protecting the natural resources and quality of life in Washington County, Utah. (Reed's husband is on CDF's Board of Directors.) Among the group's top priorities are smart growth, clean air, and stopping the Toquop Energy Project, a proposed coal-fired power plant.

"Toquop grabbed our attention about two years ago," Reed says. "It was originally proposed and permitted as a natural gas plant, but then Sithe Global bought the original permit from another company, changed the project to a coal-fired power plant, and had to start all over again with the permitting process."

The Toquop site lies near the Utah-Nevada border in Lincoln County, Nevada, 12 miles north of the town of Mesquite. But St. George, below, is the largest population center in the area and with the prevailing south winds lies downwind of the proposed plant.

St.-George-UT
Photo by Nick Christensen

"We were also downwind of the atomic testing at the Nevada Test Site," says Reed, "so this is an incredibly hot-button issue around here." St. George residents experienced significant spikes in cancer and leukemia rates in the aftermath of the atomic tests.

"Sithe, which is 80% owned by the Blackstone Group, claimed in a public meeting in St. George that they'd done testing and wind modeling and there would be no pollution in St. George," Reed says. "Locals were incredulous."

It turns out Sithe conducted its modeling studies within a 30-mile perimeter of the proposed plant, as required by law. St. George, which lies 33 miles away, wasn't included in the study.

CDF promptly kicked into gear with a "No Coal for Christmas" rally in St. George in December 2007. "We handed out Santa Claus hats, and brought lumps of coal and pens & paper so people could write to Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons," Reed says. "We put a lump of coal in each envelope and sent off about 100 packets." The event garnered media coverage statewide.

In February 2008 the Nevada Division of Air Quality held a public hearing in Mesquite, so CDF organized an event with a Valentine's Day theme. Two volunteers from the nearby town of Springdale, Lyman and Stacey Whitaker, pictured below with their children Mirinda and Lorin, engaged local schoolkids to make valentines that read, "Love Your Air." A pep rally followed at the Grace Episcopal Church in St. George, where two prominent local physicians spoke against the Toquop plant.

Love-Your-Air-valentines

That evening, residents made more valentines, and the next day CDF bussed St. George residents to the hearing in Mesquite. "All the kids who made valentines made the trip, and the hearing was packed," Reed says. CDF then gathered more than 1,200 signatures opposing Toquop and delivered them to then-Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.

Shortly after the Mesquite hearing, CDF sent a written request to the Utah Division of Environmental Quality to hold a hearing in St. George. Although the Utah DEQ had never hosted a hearing on an out-of-state project, they agreed to host one at Dixie State College in St. George. "I promoted the event with emails and flyers, and it was standing room onlymore than 250 people on a beautiful Saturday morning."

The St. George City Council had previously supported the Toquop plant, but by now the opposition was gathering momentum, and at the hearing, the mayor of St. George strode down the aisle, took the microphone, and announced that the City Council had decided to oppose the Toquop plant. They officially did so then and there.

That fall, Reed got wind of a documentary, Fighting Goliath, produced by the Utah-based Redford Center, about a coalition of Texas citizens who successfully beat back 8 of 11 coal plants proposed to be built by TXU Energy. "I contacted the film's producer and asked if it would be possible to show the film in St. George," Reed says. In partnership with the Sierra Club and other community activist groups, she was able to schedule seven simultaneous screenings in Utah and Nevada, each followed by a panel discussion with clean energy and public health experts.

The screenings were scheduled less than two months before the 2008 elections, and Reed invited all the city, county, state, and federal candidates to participate in a question and answer period after the St. George screening. "We had a great discussion about coal, renewable energy, and the Toquop plant, and learned later on that it was the largest audience the candidates spoke to during the whole fall campaign," she says.

This year, Reed arranged for CDF to host screenings of Beyond Coal and Kilowatt Ours, both sponsored in part by the Sierra Club, at which St. George city officials and representatives from Rocky Mountain Power gave presentations on alternative energy sources and how citizens could buy into solar and wind programs.

Reed also invited the economic development director of nearby Beaver County, Utah, to give a presentation in St. George on the Milford Wind Project, to be built by Baston-based First Wind. The facility will be the biggest wind farm in Utah, and will provide electricity to Southern California. The first phase of the project will include 97 wind turbines with the capacity to power nearly 50,000 homes per year. "More than 50 people came out for the mid-week presentation, which got good coverage in the local paper," Reed says.

Blackstone-petition

CDF is currently petitioning Sithe and Blackstone to abandon Toquop, and Reed is optimistic it will be stopped. "The BLM and the Nevada Division of Air Quality had planned to issue Toquop's air permits nearly a year ago, but they haven't been issued yet," she says. "Public sentiment has turned sharply against the project over the last two years, and it's the local issue that's generated by far the most interest and public support. People realize we need to find alternatives to coal and look ahead to cleaner ways of producing our energy."

Learn more about Toquop, and what you can to to help stop it.

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