Proposed Black Mesa/Mojave project falls apart ­ new alternative arises

SRP concludes that timeline delays would render the project economically unfeasible. Local groups propose an energy project of their own

Salt River Project, a 20 percent owner of the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev., is ending efforts to return the plant to service. Since the majority owner and operator of the generating station, SRP, failed to reach a purchase agreement with Southern California Edison, SRP has concluded that it will be unable to bring the facility back into service with the appropriate environmental emission controls in sufficient time to make it economically feasible for SRP customers.

"Returning the Mohave facility to service would have provided much-needed energy to Arizona and the growing greater Phoenix metropolitan area," said SRP Representative Scott Harelson. "We continue to such phenomenal growth in the Phoenix area that we expect much greater energy needs that will need to be met by 2011."

The main reason SCE backed out, was because they did not believe they could get to the point of being able to purchase supplies and begin construction on the pipeline and generating station by 2008 to finish by the 2011 Phoenix power-crunch deadline. The 1,580-megawatt plant has been shut down since December 2005, pursuant to a court ordered agreement that was not met that would have required the Mojave plant to install pollution control equipment by December 2005. Harelson said that due to concerns over water negotiations with the tribes for the slurry line, SCE was not confident enough to pursue spending money to upgrade the plant.

In June 2006, SCE and two other co-owners, Nevada Power Co. and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, announced they would no longer pursue a restart of the plant. New laws in California have blocked energy companies from buying coal power.

"In place of the Mojave, we will pursue other energy options," Harelson said.

As to alternative energies like solar and wind, Harelson said that SRP is including those in their overall system, but that current alternative energies are too inconstant and could not meet the energy needs of a growing Phoenix.

Being a 20 percent owner, SRP, and a 56 percent owner, SCE, has its benefits even though the plant is closed.

"Mohave's owners will receive windfall revenues from the sale of sulfur allowances from the shutdown plant," said Roger Clark, air and energy program director for Grand Canyon Trust, who was involved in the litigation that led to the closing of Mojave in 2005. 

Clark explained that acid-rain, cap and trade provisions of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, allow power plant owners to sell approximately tons of sulfur allowances ‹ it is basically a measure of pollution that can be sold to other power companies if the companies selling are not using it themselves. So for example, to go above the cap placed on pollution by the Clean Air Act, a New Jersey coal fired plant could buy 5,000 tons of emissions from another part of the country like Arizona to increased New Jersey's ability to generate more electricity.

Clark said that currently, all the combined owners of Mojave have over 53,000 tons of pollution credit per year, valued at $700 ‹ $1300 per ton. These sulfur allowances will provide approximately $50 million in annual revenue to the owners, Rogers said. 

SRP believes SCE intends to continue with its ongoing effort to identify potential new buyers for Mohave, but would not disclose who those potential buyers would be.

Before this happens, groups like the Just Transition Coalition are filing motions to the Public Utilities Commission in California to ask that their concerns be heard. Robert Tohe, environmental justice organizer for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, said a California judge asked to hear the proposal from the Just Transition Coalition, which is based on community and tribal owned alternative energy. They propose using possibly some of the windfall pollution credit income from the power companies, to invest in alternative energy on tribal lands.

The groups seek funding from SCE sale of about $40 million per year in pollution credits, claim that it should be used to clean up contamination, create jobs and develop renewable energy sources for the northern Arizona region. Tohe, said the Navajo Nation has distanced themselves from Just Transition, but that the Hopi Tribe is interested in exploring this.

"It looks like the California Public Utility Commission is willing to listen, especially since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has mandated California reduce its dependency on dirty energy," Tohe said.

SRP had formed a new ownership group that was prepared to complete a number of steps including, among others, the construction of approximately $750 million in additional pollution-control systems that would have significantly reduced emissions from the plant, exceeding the requirements of the consent decree, said Harelson.

SRP said a restart of Mohave would have extended the coal operations at the Black Mesa Mine, providing greatly needed employment for tribal members and revenue for education, medical care and other social services for the Navajo and Hopi Indian communities.

The Just Transition Coalition is based in Flagstaff and supported by people in California to reinvent a more equal alternative program for residents of northern Arizona to begin a movement towards a sustainable future.

Enei Begaye, member of the Just Transition Coalition, said, "A permanent closure of the Mohave plant presents a great opportunity for both the Navajo and Hopi tribes to redirect tribal funds from negotiations with Edison. The Just Transition proposal is a way to bring the Navajo and Hopi people a long term sustainable and healthy economy."

Those interested in learning more and getting involved with the Just Transition Coalition may contact Andy Bessler at (928) 774 ­ 6103.

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