U.S. Water News Online
PHOENIX -- The big coal-fired power plant outside Laughlin,
Nev., has been shuttered for nearly three weeks, but operator
Southern California Edison hopes to fire it back up despite huge odds
against the effort.
The utility is asking the California Public Utilities Commission
to let it charge customers the cost of "aggressively'' trying to
modify a 1999 legal settlement it made with environmental groups. In
the deal, Edison agreed to upgrade the Mohave Generating Station's
anti-pollution gear or shut it down by Jan. 1, 2006. It also wants
ratepayers to pay for an agreement it's seeking with Peabody Western
Coal Co. to keep its Arizona mine ready to provide fuel.
Edison also is hoping to come up with another source for the water
a third company uses to move hundreds of tons of coal each day in a
slurry through a 273-mile pipeline from Arizona to the plant.
The plant can provide enough power for 1.5 million average homes.
Environmental groups that sued Edison and the plant's co-owners in
1998 over pollution from the plant said they won't agree to any
settlement modification. Built in 1971, the plant doesn't have modern
pollution control devices like scrubbers to cut down on smoke and
sulfur dioxide emissions.
"We would not be interested in just different ways to run the
plant without any pollution controls,'' said Rob Smith, a Sierra Club
representative. "They've looked for all kinds of ways to get around
what they agreed to do without ... cleaning up the plant.''
Edison won't comment on any settlement talks that may be under
The Sierra Club joined with the Grand Canyon Trust and the
National Parks and Conservation Association to sue Edison and the
plant's other owners in an effort to get them to install modern
equipment. Partners in the plant include Edison, with 56 percent, the
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, 10 percent, Nevada Power,
14 percent and Arizona's Salt River Project, 20 percent.
Edison contends it's the iffy water supply for the slurry
pipeline, not the cost, that led to its decision to delay upgrading
the pollution controls and ultimately led to the shutdown.
"You would never invest more than a billion dollars in a plant
that's about to shut down,'' said Gil Alexander, an Edison spokesman.
Upgrading the plant and the pipeline are estimated to cost about $1.1
About 1,300 acre feet of water are pumped from wells near
Peabody's Black Mesa Mine in northern Arizona each year. Leaders of
the Hopi and Navajo tribes blame the wells for dried-up springs on
The contract to operate the wells also expired on Jan. 1. Edison
expects results of a study soon to see if it can pump water from a
If that study shows plenty of available water and it can make a
deal with the tribes to tap it, Alexander said Edison could move
ahead with plans to put the pollution devices on the Mohave plant.
Haze and soot from the plant is the largest single source of
visible pollution in the western Grand Canyon, and National Parks
officials already plan a program to measure effects from the
shutdown. Comprehensive results could take years.
The economic impact of the plant's shutdown will be significant,
according to a University of Nevada-Reno report completed in 2002.
The plant contributes about $300 million per year to the economy
in Nevada and Arizona through direct employment, mining and pipeline
activity, the study showed. It employed 280 people, 260 worked at the
Black Mesa mine and 52 in pipeline operations in 2002.
Operations at Black Mesa ceased on Dec. 31, Peabody spokeswoman
Beth Sutton said. The mine work force had shrunk to 165 by then.
About 20 percent transferred to a nearby mine and the rest were
laid off, with 15 percent taking retirement. Hundreds of other jobs
are at risk as well, both on the reservations and near the plant.
The Navajo and Hopis also will lose millions per year in royalties
Richard Mayon of the Grand Canyon Trust said he believes Edison
intended to shutter the aging plant until a run-up in natural gas
prices changed the economics of continued operation. Edison disputes
that, saying they delayed putting in the needed upgrades because of
uncertainty in the water supplies.
Mayon's group joined the Sierra Club and several other groups last
month in asking California regulators to set aside any money Edison
may get for selling the plant's pollution credits into a fund to help
the Navajo and Hopi tribes.
They want the money used to build a renewable energy project such
as wind and solar power on the reservation as a way of backfilling
for the lost revenue and employment.
Edison issued a press release strongly opposing the notion.
"To claim that an asset belonging to our customers should be
transferred to others is unprecedented and inappropriate,'' the
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