The Review Ineffectively Addresses AMP

David R. Ashenhurst

To the Editors:

You could knock me over with a feather: The Oberlin News-Tribune, with far less time to put it together, actually presented the American Municipal Power Generating Station story better than The Oberlin Review did. That’s almost the first time in my memory, and certainly the first on a story with a significant environmental and policy dimension.

Consider first that American Municipal Power issued a press release and held a press conference (though there is very little evidence the latter was anything more than the distribution of the press release) at noon the day before Thanksgiving. The hope is presumably that news coverage will be limited to a passing mention on the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. Wednesday evening news virtually nobody will watch, and a bland article in the Thursday newspaper virtually no one will read.

AMP’s press release is entitled “AMP Announces Likely Conversion of AMPGS Project”; your headline writers turned that into a done deal (“Gas to Power AMP Plant”), as did your reporters (“American Municipal Power announced that it would be converting … ”). Few news organizations shared AMP’s optimism, and yours: the headlines Wednesday and Thursday online and in print focused on the termi- nation of the project as planned, not a hoped-for scenario to recoup some of the massive “sunk” costs.

Martinsville, VA, had a fairly cheery headline but a more somber opening sentence: “Martinsville Joins Majority of AMP-Ohio Member Communities Supporting Change in Direction for AMP-GS” — but then, “The members, including the City of Martinsville, of American Municipal Power’s (AMP) group constructing the AMPGS facility in Meigs County, OH, voted overwhelmingly yesterday to terminate the project in its current form.”

Here are some other daily newspaper headlines and sub-headlines online Wednesday or in print Thursday: “AMP-Ohio abandons plans for coal plant” (Columbus); “AMP-Ohio gives up on plans for coal-fired power plant; Company says it wants to use natural gas instead” (Columbus); “American Municipal Power will not build coal-fired power plant” (Cleveland); “Costs doom plans for Ohio River power plant; Company might consider building one that’s gas- fired” (Columbus); “Painesville, other AMP members cancel plant” (Painesville); “AMP coal plant dead in water; Locals stunned by decision” (Pomeroy); “Natural gas, not coal, might fuel power plant; Environmental groups hail proposed move” (Akron); and “Electric supplier pulls its plan for $4B power plant” (Toledo).

Other headlines over the next few days: “Opponents hail AMP’s decision to dump coal” (Pomeroy, Nov. 27); “AMP, city abandon plant plan” (Martinsville, VA, Nov. 27); “Loss of power plant to cost millions” (Marietta, Nov. 28); “AMP shuts down coal-fired plant project” (Hudson, Dec. 2); “Plug pulled on power plant” (Yellow Springs, Dec. 3); “Power plant project stalls; Economic reasons, not opposition from environmentalists, behind decision” (Dover-New Philadelphia, Dec. 4).

Okay, let’s look at the News- Trib’s headline last Tuesday, Dec. 1: “Coal-powered plant now a no-go.” Now that’s more like it. Its lead paragraph: “Oberlin’s decision to not participate in ownership of a coal-fired plant in Meigs County, OH, has been vindicated.” I’d normally deride the use of a split infinitive, but this is fairly close to the truth. Of course, Oberlin’s decision “to not participate” was only made by the slimmest majority of the 2008-09 City Council, and it followed “Oberlin’s decision” made by the slimmest majority of the 2006- 07 City Council to participate. The story only discusses the Feb. 2008 decision to get out of AMPGS, not the October 2007 decision (which it editorially supported) to get into it in the first place.

Also somewhat ironic was the fact that the News-Trib’s sister publications in Amherst and Wellington had no mention of AMP’s announcement in their editions last week; those two communities are on the hook for their share of the “sunk” costs in AMPGS, estimated in one newspaper as exceeding $250,000 per megawatt of the power the community had contracted to receive beginning in 2013 (and already moved back to 2014).

Despite AMP’s attempts to bury it, this announcement was a major vindication of the position of several City Council members who were elected in November 2007 with massive support from concerned Oberlin College students. We spent many hours, in many forums, discussing the economic folly of the project as well as its deleterious environmental implications. I can only wonder at the timing of the decision, three weeks after the November 2009 election, as well as the Thanksgiving Eve release of the news. I’m wondering whether any candidates (or news organizations) in the 81 AMPGS participating communities share my curiosity in this regard.

Your two reporters on this story were joined by a third in covering the Green Energy Forum that took place last Wednesday; that seemed to me a much more thorough and penetrating article. I will point out one little bobble, however: David Sonner is not yet a “former Oberlin mayor and City Council member”; he presided at the meeting on Dec. 7, he’ll preside on Dec. 21, and his term extends to the end of the year. I share the status with him, so I’m sensitive. Call us “lame ducks” if you wish; the newspapers normally refer to us as “ousted.” We’ll be “former” in 2010.

–David R. Ashenhurst
(for a couple of weeks, still) Member of Council City of Oberlin