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Navajo plant operators announce alternative plan to reduce emissions

The Navajo Generating Station in northeastern Arizona is powered by millions of tons of coal mined annually at the nearby Kayenta mine. (Photo by R.J. Hall via Wikipedia Commons)

The Navajo Generating Station in northeastern Arizona is powered by millions of tons of coal mined annually at the nearby Kayenta mine. (Photo by R.J. Hall via Wikipedia Commons)

The owners and operators of the Navajo Generating Station announced an alternative proposal to reduce emissions at the coal-powered plant they say will cost millions of dollars less than a plan mandated by the federal government.

The group’s proposal, which must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, would shutter one of the plant’s three generators by 2020 and calls for the plant to cease operation of all conventional coal-fired energy generation by 2044.

The plant’s remaining two generators would be retrofitted with pollution-reducing technologies. The federal mandate issued in February called for retrofits on all three of the Navajo station’s generators, a plan that the Salt River Project, the plant’s operators, estimated could cost as much as $1 billion to follow.

The EPA called for emission-reduction measures to be in place by 2018, while the alternative proposal would give Salt River Project officials until 2030 to install the retrofits.

The working group consists of representatives from the Navajo Nation, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Salt River Project , among others.

Some environmentalists offered cautious praise of the proposal to reduce emissions, an effort the EPA has pushed for as a means to improve visibility at the Grand Canyon. But a group of Arizona lawmakers and business leaders announced their opposition to what they called a “backroom deal” that threatens Arizona’s job market and economy.

Officials with the Arizona Coalition for Water, Energy and Jobs, which issued a strong rebuke of the EPA’s mandated plan to reduce emission last month, said Friday they were opposed to the alternative offered by the coalition of parties involved with the Navajo Generating Station because it calls for closing at least part of the station by 2020.

Under the alternative plan, the remaining two generators at the station would be shuttered by 2044 unless a cleaner energy alternative could be used at the station.

Closing the Navajo Generating Station could cost Arizonans thousands of jobs and cost the state’s economy $20 billion over the next three decades, according to the coalition, which is urging the EPA to halt its mandate.

“Arizona has the power to stop this assault on our state by demanding full discussion and thoughtful study of the proposed rule. Until that process is complete, EPA has no authority to proceed,” said David Martin, president of the Arizona Chapter of Associated General Contractors, an association in the coalition.

The fate of the station has statewide implication. The station employs more than 500 people, mostly from the Navajo Nation. And the Central Arizona Project, which provides water to central and southern Arizona communities, gets much of the power required to move water from the Colorado River across the state from the generating station.

The Navajo Nation has long been opposed to shuttering any part of the station, but the working group acknowledged that given the EPA’s mandate, their alternative is the best way to move forward while keeping the station operational in the coming decades.

Salt River Project officials have warned that the prohibitive costs of the EPA’s proposal to reduce emissions could force them to close the plant entirely rather than spend hundreds of millions of dollars on retrofits.

“While this compromise may negatively impact the Nation’s overall economy, it is better than the potential for a complete shutdown of [the Navajo Generating Station] by 2019,” said Ben Shelley, President of the Navajo Nation.

Salt River Project officials could not provide a cost estimate for their alternative proposal, and the impact to rates paid by Arizona water users under the proposal is unclear.

Officials with the Central Arizona Project praised the new plan, which they said would preserve the existing power they receive from the Navajo Generating Station.

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