GREAT FALLS (AP) - Gov. Brian Schweitzer says he supports the Highwood Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant proposed for east of Great Falls.
"I'm supporting the Highwood project," Schweitzer told the Great Falls Tribune's editorial board Friday. "It'll be one of the cleanest coal plants in the country."
The plant does not use a technology known as Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle or IGCC, a process some environmentalists prefer for its low emissions and because it captures carbon dioxide.
The Highwood plant will "not have the ability of capturing carbon dioxide," Schweitzer conceded.
However, the new plant will be required to capture 90 percent or more of mercury emissions, according to a state air quality permit.
If Montana's Colstrip coal-fired generating plants were as efficient as the proposed Highwood plant at containing mercury, "I'd say a whole rosary," Schweitzer quipped.
"I'm disappointed by his support of a 20-year-old technology," said one plant critic, Dr. Cheryl Reichert of Great Falls. "It does absolutely nothing for global warming. With an IGCC plant, you remove all the impurities before they go up the stack."
Plant backers, including Great Falls officials, say the IGCC technology remains too uncertain.
Schweitzer said Montana's demand for electricity is increasing, and new transmission lines should be available by the time the Highwood plant opens several years from now.
The Highwood plant is just part of the state's burgeoning energy picture, the governor added.
"We've got an energy boom going on in Montana," Schweitzer said. For instance, Montana is a rare state that has increased oil production.
Coal gasification is promising, and wind farms are popping up or planned across the state, he said. Some wind developers think they might be able to provide a steady source of power from wind by locating wind farms all around Montana, Schweitzer said. Others think that would be impractical and say the wind farms must be supplemented by coal plants or other stable power sources.
Schweitzer also mentioned potential coal development in the Windham area, west of Lewistown.
"We have 120 billion ton of this coal" in Montana, he said.
Wyoming has 10 times the coal production of Montana, but this state is working hard to boost its coal business, he said. Schweitzer said over the last half-century, coal production has increased under Democratic administrations, but flattened out when Republicans held the governor's seat.