Cogentrix opponents sound off

About 100 people attended a town hall-type meeting in Madras to make clear their position on the proposed gas-fired power 980-megawatt generating plant
A group calling itself Friends of Central Oregon drew more than 100 attendees to the Jefferson County Library Annex recently, hoping their fight against a proposed power plant near the Jefferson/Crook County line would gather enough steam to stop construction of the gas-fired power generation plant.
   Cogentrix, a North Carolina-based company, hopes to construct 34 acres of buildings to generate electricity on property between Madras and Prineville, adjacent to and south of Ramms Road, which is less than two miles east of Highway 26.
   Opponents at the town hall-style meeting said they were against the plant's construction for a myriad of reasons, and expressed their frustration on many fronts.
   Jerry Fletcher of Redmond, a local electrical workers union representative, captured the multitude of grievances when he delivered his impassioned statement to roaring approval: "Their profits are going to North Carolina, the power will go to California and our water will go up in the air. We don't need them!" he said.
   Jefferson County and Madras officials have welcomed the proposal, hoping the estimated 25-30 jobs the power plant will be a boost to the local economy. Officials have offered Cogentrix a 5-year tax break incentive to draw their business to Jefferson County.
   That fact didn't sit well with many of the attendees, who were given the chance to ask the seven-person panel of speakers questions or offer their own comments.
   The evening discussion covered many topics related to the proposed power generator but lacked real dialogue as nobody's arguments were refuted.
   Those in attendance said they were hoping to see city and county leaders at the meeting to explain their positions, but no counter arguments were presented, nor did anyone indicate that they supported the power plant's arrival.
   One man distributed Opal Springs bottled water to attendees in a gesture signaling the opposition of the plant based on environmental grounds. Officials of the proposed 980-megawatt generating plant have asked for the rights to 11.2 million gallons of water per day. They anticipate pumping 6.25 million gallons of water a day and will use 4.75 million daily, returning what's left to either surface- or groundwater-systems. A Cogentrix official who spoke to a Culver audience in August said that the power plant would not touch the Opal Springs Aquifer but rather the Pelton aquifer, which is 900 feet below the Crooked River.
   Still, those gathered in the standing-room-only library annex were skeptical.
   Critics also charged that the air and water in that part of the area will suffer despite Cogentrix touting its gas-fired, steam-generating power plants as low-impact because of state-of-the-art technology.
   Cogentrix's plant near Grizzly Mountain could generate enough power to provide electricity for a small city.
   Along with Jefferson County residents, the forum drew a mix of Oregonians from Prineville, Portland, Redmond, Bend and elsewhere. Afterward, they collected the more than 25 pieces of anti-Cogentrix literature made available and some even left with bumper stickers reading "Stop Cogentrix" and T-shirts displaying the words "Save Grizzly Mountain."
   Cogentrix, which has equity interest in 30 generation facilities in 14 states, still has many hurdles to overcome before its project becomes reality. It's next step is to complete and deliver an application for a site license to the Oregon Office of Energy.
   Once the state office receives the application, the power plant's immediate fate will rest in the hands of the Energy Facility Siting Council - a seven-member group of volunteers appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate that geographically represents the entire state.
   The Energy Facility Siting Council, which has the responsibility to make sure large energy facilities are located, built and operated in ways that protect the environment and public health, could issue Cogentrix a site certificate if it meets the council's siting standards.
   Catherine Vanhorn, an energy facility analyst with the Oregon Office of Energy, said a Cogentrix consultant told her an application is expected to be delivered in late October or early November.
   A month after the application is received, Vanhorn said, her office will host a public information meeting in Jefferson County to present the proposal's specifics.