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Members of several conservation groups opposed to coal mining have contributed to a report saying the owners of Navajo Generating Station in Page would be best off financially if they closed the coal plant.

Figuring in financial costs for releasing greenhouse gases under some sort of federal limits (which don't exist today), and uncertain costs for coal supplies into the future, the authors conclude that Salt River Project could make perhaps $158 million by shutting Navajo and investing it in renewable energy instead.

One contributor called it a big-picture report that he hopes will prompt utilities to think about what would happen when or if the country gets serious about cutting greenhouse gases.

"It provides more questions than answers, but I think (the report) has value because utilities and Arizona Corporation Commission aren't asking these questions," said Roger Clark, of the Grand Canyon Trust, who was consulted in the writing of the report.

A THOUSAND JOBS AT STAKE

But a spokesman for SRP pointed out the local costs of a closure, which were not contained in the report.

Navajo Generating Station employs 545 people full time, and the mine that feeds it provides another 400 jobs with Peabody Western Coal, plus royalties to the Navajo Nation, said Scott Harelson, an SRP spokesman.

SRP currently gets about 6.5 percent of its retail energy from renewable sources.

The authors, with a group called Natural Capitalism Solutions, propose more efficient energy use, retraining people who now work in the coal energy industry, and covering 134 million square feet of the 336-mile Central Arizona Project canals with solar panels. The cost of that project would be perhaps $8 billion and would take maybe 20 years to recoup.

The report did not say how that $8 billion price tag would be financed. But Clark said utility customers should push for much more renewable energy now -- while up-front costs for renewables can be more expensive than traditional power, fuel costs to harness the wind and sun stay stable.

"The fuel price on renewables is fixed. It's zero. And so if you're looking at long-term power projects, that's something you should be looking at," he said.

At present, if the United States government were to adopt carbon-capping legislation and set a price on it, SRP would pass any fees that would result at the coal plant along to its customers.

CLEAN AIR AN ISSUE

In 1991, the plant's owners put about $450 million into reducing sulfur produced from the power plant's emissions.

Currently, the plant is undergoing another retrofit to cut one more pollutant, at a cost of $43 million.

It's up to the Environmental Protection Agency to decide, possibly this fall, whether the plant needs to go further to clean the air, as managers at the National Park Service have advocated, to improve views more at the Grand Canyon.

In 2005, the Navajo Generating Station produced 690,527 tons of carbon dioxide and 91 pounds of mercury -- the latter an element found in Lake Mary fish, leading to advisory limits on how many fish can be eaten.

The report cites data from other regions showing a link between coal mining or coal burning and increased risk of health problems and death.

Clark says it doesn't matter whether his group supports or opposes coal burning in Page, but that coal supplies will eventually run out under any scenario, and the plant will someday close.

Harelson of SRP would not put a date on any such event.

The coal plant is scheduled to operate into 2024, according to filings with federal agencies.

VALUE IN SHUTTING DOWN

In all, the report puts the plant's pollution credits, water value, a premium for switching to green electricity and avoided coal-purchasing costs at about $1.3 billion.

The report proposed SRP look at the value of water to cool the plant, for example, which was put at $3 million to $36 million per year, and at increased coal costs possible under climate change legislation.

The 2,250 megawatt plant burns a maximum of 25,000 tons of coal in a day, according to the report, brought in from the Black Mesa area by train.

Power from the plant is used, in part, in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas, including to move water through the Central Arizona Project to central and southern Arizona.

A coal plant provides power to meet ongoing, steady power needs.

One difficulty with wind and solar renewables is that they don't always produce maximum power when utilities need it (they're not as steady), and energy storage options are limited.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at ccole@azdailysun.com

Online editor's note: Correction made 3/8/10 to this story regarding electricity-generating capacity of Navajo Generating Station in Page.

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