Global warming bill delays Desert Rock

By Kathy Helms, Diné Bureau, Gallup Independent, MARCH 24, 2008

ST. MICHAELS — The air permit for the Desert Rock Energy Project is being held up by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over concerns with the Endangered Species Act and global warming, and legislation introduced March 11 in Washington is not going to help the matter.

Introduced by Rep. Edward Markey and Rep. Henry Waxman, the “Moratorium on Uncontrolled Power Plants Act of 2008,” addresses the largest new source of global warming pollution — new coal-fired power plants that are being built without any controls on their global warming emissions, according to the chairmen.

The bill places a moratorium on either EPA or states issuing permits to new coal-fired power plants without state-of-the-art control technology to capture and permanently sequester the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions. The moratorium extends until a comprehensive federal regulatory program for global warming pollution is in place.

The bill also bars a new coal-fired power plant without state-of-the-art control technology from receiving any free or reduced-cost emissions allowances under a future federal program to address global warming.

Many communities are still paying for failed nuclear power plant investments in the 1980’s, the chairmen said.

“This bill puts investors and power companies on notice that if they invest in new sources of global warming pollution now, taxpayers won’t pay for the costs of cleaning up those sources later,” the chairmen said.

“That’s what’s really holding up the permit, as we understand,” Diné Power Authority General Manager Steven Begay told the Economic Development Committee this week.

According to Waxman, comprehensive economy-wide regulation to address global warming is coming soon. More than 100 new plants have been proposed, and even if just a portion of these are built, they will emit over a hundred million tons of carbon dioxide a year.

While Desert Rock will have state-of-the-art technology, carbon capture technology for the plant does not exist yet on a commercial scale, Begay said. In which case, the plan now is to build the plant and leave a space so the plant can be retrofitted with a carbon-capture system when it becomes available.

“Carbon capture technology is there — it’s theory — but there is no real practice. They’re being experimented on real small scales and you can’t just go from there to large scale. So there’s that design that’s not there that we’re willing to look at.”

Once a design becomes available, the next step would be financing. “ For the size of the plant that Desert Rock is promoting to develop, it will require about $450 million per unit,” he said. There are two 750 megawatt units proposed for the $3 billion, 1,500 megawattt coal-fired power plant to be built near Burnham.

Begay said installation of the carbon capture system also would result in less power available to sell.

“It absorbs some of that power from the plant to run the system, so it reduces your net output to the off-takers. There is some economic impact because of that, because that means that the Nation and the partners won’t be selling as much power because some of that power will be used in the carbon capture system.

“But given that its all experimental— there’s no proven technology that can be applied at the size Desert Rock will be — we’re receptive to it but we’ve got to keep moving. There is a slot in the emission system where, if it’s there, we’ll put it in.”

Developers of Desert Rock are receptive and available to talk about bringing about the carbon capture technology, he said, but an assessment would be needed to determine what to do with the carbon once it is captured or sequestered. “Do we put it in some aquifer or some dome, or do we market it to Utah or Texas to do tertiary recovery? We’ll need to have pipelines to send that, so there’s that evaluation that needs to be done.”

DPA and Sithe Global Power subsidiary Desert Rock Energy Co. LLC filed suit this week to prod EPA on issuance of the Desert Rock air permit. New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry said that at the request of the Navajo Nation, NMED staff has been meeting with tribal environmental officials to discuss the project and the potential for carbon emission reductions. “To sue now undercuts these ongoing discussions,” he said.

“We respect the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation and the rights of tribal governments to determine their economic futures and to pursue positive change within their communities. However, the responsibility of taking strong action to combat global climate change is one we must all share.”




Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.