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Public Hearing Held on Controversial Power Plant Expansion in Sunland Park

Public Hearing Held on Controversial Power Plant Expansion in Sunland Park
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POSTED: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 1:49pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 2:14pm

SUNLAND PARK - It will likely be weeks before we find out if New Mexico will green light the controversial expansion of a power plant in Sunland Park.

El Paso electric says it will stimulate Sunland Park's economy. Critics say it will pollute the community for years to come.

Either way - the state of New Mexico held a public hearing at the Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino to look at granting El Paso Electric an air quality permit to build it.

"I still don't know much about what is going to be the real impact," said concerned neighbor Daniel Fuentes, who lives near the power plant.

Fuentes is one of dozens of Sunland Park neighbors who showed up at the hearing.

El Paso Electric's plan is to build a new gas-powered turbine next year at the Rio Grande Power Plant. There are already three older turbines in place. The company said adding a new one will eventually let them shut down two of the less efficient ones.

“We believe it won't add more pollution. This new turbine is more efficient than the turbines we currently have at the site," said company spokesperson Teresa Souza.

But even El Paso Electric admits the pollution could get worse before it gets better. That's because it could take 10 years before the other, older turbines can be retired.

"We're adding a new unit but we're taking down two older units so in the end that's going to bring down the level,” said Souza.

Still, many in Sunland Park are skeptical. They just want the state to take a long, hard look at all the facts before giving the project a thumbs up.

"There have been concerns about that for several years. Not just the power plant, but the landfill and other industry around this community," said Fuentes.

The state Environment Department said it could be weeks before any decision is made on the air quality permit.

We'll let you know what happens.

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