Sunday, January 01, 2006



VIA The UK Guardian:

"Nevada Power Plant to Close After Dispute",1282,-5512825,00.html

The first paragraph pretty much sums up the slant:

"LAUGHLIN, Nev. (AP) - A large coal-fired power plant at the center of a dispute several years ago will close at the end of the year rather than violate a court-ordered deadline to install an estimated $1.1 billion in pollution-control measures."

The possum's nose for rotten news detected a whopper here. This is a 1580 megawatt plant - the kind that can amortize a billion dollar refit easily. Is there a rest of the story?

There is indeed. And it's a sobering, no free lunch kind of story.

It started over air pollution, this is true. The issue was important enough that back in 1991, Congress ordered the EPA to study the plant's impacts on air quality at the Grand Canyon National Park, 75 miles away. By 1999 the threat of legal action by the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, and the National Parks and Conservation Association had forced the plant owners into a consent decree wherein they agreed to install new pollution control equipment by December 31, 2005 - or close.

Meanwhile, the plant owners were facing other, far more intractable problems. The Mohave plants receive their coal from Peabody Energy, a middleman who operates two mines, including the Black Mesa mine, for the Hopi and Navaho tribes who own the coal reserves. The coal is crushed and mixed with water. Then, as a slurry, it is pumped 273 miles from mine to plant. The pipeline is operated by yet another company, Black Mesa Pipeline company, which buys its water from the Hopi tribe.

The water for the slurry comes from the Navaho aquifier, a high-quality aquifer controlled by the Navaho and Hopi Nations. The aquifer is becoming depleted, and the tribes want to curtail this use and would prefer to eliminate it entirely.

Black Mesa pipeline has made tentative plans to shift to the Coconino aquifer - which also serves Flagstaff. The supply is more than adequate, but the operators haven't moved ahead. Permitting, the necessary impact studies, well drilling, and construction of the water supply pipeline will run about $200 million.

Then there's royalties. The Navaho Nation is involved in legal action against Peabody and the owners of the Mohave Plant over past coal royalties.

By bad luck, the water and coal supply contracts - and the permits that govern them - are up for renewal NOW.

Here begins the kvetching...

The tribes will not consider extending the mining agreement as long as the back royalties issue is unsettled.

The mining permits cannot be renewed until the supply and contractual issues, especially the water supply issue, are settled. The coal cannot be transported without the water. The Hopi especially are unwilling to see "their" water go to this use and will not relent without the royalties settlement.

Changing over to the Coconino aquifer requires the pipeline owners to gamble $200 million, which they are unwilling to do as long as the other issues remain unresolved.

SoCal Edison, part owner and primary customer for the Mohave Plant, which agreed to install the polution controll equipment in 1999, is leery of spending $1.1 billion to upgrade a coal plant that may soon have no coal to burn.

Enter the scapegoats... Environmentalists, who agreed to give SoCal Edison 6 YEARS to complete 30 MONTHS of retrofitting, are pilloried for sticking to their guns - even though the plant will likely close in any case.

In the real world, everyone can't have everything...

The tribes want the mine and plant to run. Without them, the already depressed local economies will collapse. The two employers are responsible for approximately a third of all local economic activity, and the coal royalties are a huge piece of the two tribes' revenue.

BUT: The mines aren't important enough to use "their" water or forego the issue of past royalties.

The power is sold to people from Los Angeles to Flagstaff - some of the very people who sued over the air pollution.

BUT: Here is more opposition to expanded use of the Coconino aquifer, which is crucial to the booming growth in Arizona from Flagstaff south.

The original litigants in the consent decree could consent to an extention.

BUT: They see nothing to be gained for their constituents, who view the plant as a pox.

Edison would like to keep the plant running. It's a great hedge facility against the volatile price of their #1 alternative fuel, natural gas. Right now coal-generated electricity is 20% cheaper than natural gas generated power.

BUT: Their hands are tied. Corporations like SoCal Edison really don't have much discretion. They have to justify whatever they do to all concerned; accordingly, almost two years ago, they dumped the matter on the California Public Utilities Commission, who is the utility's primary regulator.

If it were football, I believe that would be called "punting"... Or maybe running out the clock... Either way, the clock's ran down, at least for now. There is nothing preventing the resumption of operations - nothing, that is except the expentiture of a bunch of money and the changing of a bunch of minds.

I think the changed minds will be harder to come by than the cash...

Wow, this is so messed up, I can't believe than Congress isn't involved...
Yes. How could something this screwed up get that way without Congressional involvement. Congress can only make things like this worse ...
Enviro's probably take quite a few cheapshots. One could argue they have brought it on themselves.
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