Enviros encouraged over Mohave closure

By Cindy Yurth
Special to the Times

CHINLE – The permanent closure of the Mohave Generating Station marks the end of an era, but it could also be the beginning of a new, cleaner one, according to a coalition of environmental groups.

A press release issued last week by the Just Transition Coalition urged the Navajo and Hopi tribes which profited from the plant’s operation by leasing coal and water rights, to seek alternatives to replace the lost revenue – about $38 million annually in royalties, taxes and fees.

Southern California Edison announced June 19 that it has abandoned efforts to reopen Mohave as a coal-fired power producer. The plant bought all the output from the Black Mesa Mine which closed at the end of 2005 when Mohave shut down.

“Now that negotiations have effectively run into a brick wall, the Just Transition Plan is the only viable alternative,” said Andy Bessler, Southwest representative of the Sierra Club, a coalition member.

The Just Transition Plan, which has been promoted by the coalition without the support of either tribe, calls for profits from sales of the plant's pollution credits to be used to offset the economic effects of Mohave’s closure on Hopi and Navajo people.

How to use the money – which could be up to $20 million a year – would be up to the tribes, but the coalition has proposed using some of it to build a solar or wind-powered electric plant. The tribes would earn revenues from sales of electricity to utilities, as the environmentalists envision it.

SoCal Edison argued that any money from the sale of pollution credits would belong to its ratepayers, but the California Public Utilities Commission last month agreed to have the funds put in escrow until the Mohave matter was settled.

Despite the CPUC decision neither tribal administration has warmed up to the environmentalists' plan.

In a press release issued June 19, Hopi Tribal Chairman Ivan Sidney said the tribe would continue negotiation with the plant’s minority owners and other interested parties in the hope that Mohave can be reopened. Edison is the majority owner and as such, acted as the plant operator.

“The Hopi tribe intends to press forward with the Navajo Nation, Peabody Coal Company and the Salt River Project to finalize the few remaining points separating the parties,” the release reads. Peabody operates the Black Mesa Mine that slurried coal to the power plant, and the Salt River Project is the second-largest investor in the plant at 20 percent.

The statement makes no mention of the Just Transition Plan, which is Sidney's spokeswoman, Bertha Parker, said is because the plan has never been formally been presented to the tribe.

“(Just Transition Coalition member) Vernon Masayesva has been on the (tribal) council’s agenda for months and never appeared,” she said.

No statement was forthcoming from Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. by press time, but so far the Navajo Nation Council has not adopted the Just Transition Plan.

Bessler is mystified why the tribes are continuing to negotiate while the plant's operator and major stockholder, Southern California Edison, has abandoned it.

“The only thing I can think of is they know something we don’t, which would be that someone is planning to buy SoCal Edison’s share,” he said. “But I can't imagine who would invest in an outdated power plant that needs billions in upgrades and has to shut down in 20 years anyway.”

Under a 1999 settlement, Mohave's owners need to install smokestack scrubbers worth about $1.1 billion to continue to operate after 2005.

In 2026, Nevada users of Colorado River water will lose a large share of their water rights. That means Mohave, located in Laughlin, Nev., will no longer be able to pump the 30,000 acre-feet the plant, which would make it economically unfeasible to operate, according to Bessler.

Then there's the matter of replacing the 4,000 acre-feet of Navajo-Aquifer water used each year to slurry the coal from the mine to Mohave. Both tribes have told Peabody, which owns the slurry pipeline, it needs to find another source for that water, but the environmental impact statement has not yet been completed for the most feasible alternative – the Coconino Aquifer.

Now that the plant has shut down permanently, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will probably abandon the costly EIS process, according to Bessler. And there is plenty of opposition among rural Navajos to pumping the C-Aquifer as well.

“As far as I can see, the only one who could benefit from buying that plant would be Peabody itself,” said Bessler. “That way they could sell coal to themselves.”

Asked whether that is a possibility, Peabody spokeswoman Beth Sutton said the company “odes not typically comment on acquisitions.


originally found in the Navajo Times 29 June 2006


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html