PAGE -- Proponents of the Navajo Generating Station are hoping last week's Environmental Protection Agency rule-making for three eastern Arizona power plants does not turn out to be foretelling for them.
EPA announced new pollution limits Friday that are expected to cost $500 million in improvements to reduce haze over the Grand Canyon and other Class I federal sites. The decision for the Apache, Cholla and Coronado generating stations has been described as unnecessarily strict by state officials and plant operators.
Like the plants near Cochise, Joseph City and St. Johns, NGS is fired by coal and is the subject of EPA rule-making on visibility. A decision is expected soon. Friday's announcement has raised tensions at NGS, a 2,250-megawatt giant just east of Page. The plant is facing as much as $1.1 billion in new emission controls.
"I've been hoping for a glimmer of light, but it hasn't turned a corner at all," said Page Mayor Bill Diak, a retired business agent at NGS. "It just amazes me that EPA doesn't seem to be listening to anybody. I don't know if they're just playing hardball."
Coronado, a 773-megawatt plant owned by the Salt River Project, had already agreed to more than $500 million in improvements four years ago to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions, and installed low-NOx burners on each of its two units in 2009 and 2011, a spokesman said.
PUBLIC COMMENTS DISREGARDED
"Friday's final rule from EPA under the agency's regional haze regulations further restricts nitrogen oxide emissions from Coronado Generating Station beyond limits agreed to in 2008," said Scott Harelson, an SRP spokesman. "Certainly we are concerned about the direction EPA is taking, and will continue to work with them to reach a reasonable decision for NGS."
The new controls at Coronado will cost about $110 million, Harelson said Monday. The cost for the required improvements will likely be passed on to customers and the controls will likely produce no perceptible visibility benefits near the plant, he said.
"SRP is very disappointed that the EPA failed to consider the input from the hundreds of people that attended the agency's open houses to register their opposition to the proposed rule," Harelson said. "The vast majority of the public who made comments at these meetings in Phoenix, Holbrook and Benson told the EPA the rule would have a detrimental impact on their pocket books and/or their communities."
SRP is the operating agent for NGS and owns about 22 percent of the facility. The plant was built in the early 1970s for about $650 million, including $200 million in environmental control equipment. An additional $420 million was spent on new sulfur dioxide scrubbers in the 1990s to greatly reduce the yellow plume, and $45 million more from 2009-11 to reduce NOx emissions.
The ultimate decision on additional controls at NGS could effectively be made by a newly re-elected President Obama, "which is pretty scary," said Page's Diak.
"I consider myself an optimist, but optimism can only take you so far down the road," Diak said Monday night.
Operators have said they may shut the plant down if Selective Catalytic Reduction technology proves too expensive to install. NGS and associated coal-mining operations in the Black Mesa area account for a large share of the northern Arizona economy, employing close to 1,000 people.
During his successful campaign for Jon Kyl's U.S. Senate seat, Jeff Flake told a Page audience Sept. 5 that NGS was in "imminent danger," and suggested the EPA was waging a "war on coal."
He added, "If we don't have a change in the White House or the Senate, I don't see the agenda changing."
STATE EFFORTS UNDERMINED
Harelson and the state Department of Environmental Quality have accused EPA of undermining state efforts to meet regional haze guidelines.
"Arizona developed a comprehensive plan that included a large number of measures to address a variety of sources that contribute to regional haze," Harelson said. "Unfortunately, EPA continues to ignore Arizona's extensive and well-reasoned efforts to implement a regional haze plan that is the best plan for the Arizona."
ADEQ Director Henry Darwin said Friday, "We are disappointed that EPA would choose to unilaterally decide what's best for Arizona rather than work with ADEQ as a partner to address its concerns."