Lamar coal plant: Trinidad sues to get out of "mismanaged" project

Trinidad's City Council voted unanimously last week to file a lawsuit against the Arkansas River Power Authority, claiming that the co-op has bungled the construction of a coal-fired power plant in Lamar that was supposed to provide electricity to southeast Colorado. It's the latest in a series of setbacks for the plant, which has attracted litigation from ARPA partners as well as environmentalists and unhappy residents in Lamar.

My September 2010 feature, "Black Out," offers a rundown of the plant's troubled history. Located just a few blocks from Lamar's business district and close to many residences, the plant had operated on natural gas for years -- until ARPA and Lamar Light and Power decided it would be cheaper to convert to coal.

But the conversion was more costly than projected and left many locals feeling steamed -- about noise, pollution, breakdowns, and the health concerns associated with operating a coal plant next door. WildEarth Guardians and several Lamar residents are now battling the utility in federal court, claiming that officials failed to meet federal requirements for power plants before starting construction and that the plant has logged more than a thousand violations of emissions standards since operations began.

The supposed beneficiaries of the deal are feeling a bit sooty, too. The original plan was to funnel power from the plant to seven towns -- Lamar, La Junta, Las Animas, Holly, Springfield, Trinidad and Raton, New Mexico. Complaining that the project had soared in cost and failed to deliver the cheap power promised, Raton dropped out of the consortium last year.

Officials in Trinidad are now looking elsewhere for their electricity needs, too. Delays and frequents shutdowns of the plant have forced ARPA members to buy more expensive power elsewhere; the final straw was apparently a December boiler breakdown that city officials didn't learn about for a week. City administrator Gil Rubio told the Pueblo Chieftain that ARPA "has really mismanaged this whole Lamar project."

The plant, which has operated intermittently over the past two years, is currently closed for repairs.

More from our News archive: "Xcel clean energy plan: Poll shows wide support for dumping coal plants."

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