Salt River Project wants to restart a controversial coal-fired power plant near Laughlin, Nev., that was shut down in December because of environmental problems.
With electricity demand growing 5 percent a year, the Mohave Generating Station needs to be revived to meet the expanding power needs of SRP customers, said John Coggins, SRP’s manager of resource planning and development.
But the project faces huge hurdles — not the least of which is finding a new water supply to operate a 273-mile coal-slurry pipeline that transports coal from the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona to the power plant on the Colorado River.
SRP and others also would have to install $500 million in improved air pollution controls.
Despite the daunting costs, which total about $1 billion, Coggins said restarting Mohave would be less expensive than building a plant.
“There are already transmission lines and infrastructure in place at Mohave,” he said. “We see value in the plant.”
SRP’s assessment differs from that of three other partners in the plant. Southern California Edison, the majority owner and operator, and Nevada Power Co. and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said in June they will not pursue restarting the plant because the challenges are too severe.
SRP is trying to organize an ownership group that would buy the three utilities’ share of the 1,580 megawatt plant, and SRP is willing to consider increasing its own 20 percent share as part of that effort, Coggins said.
Mohave, which began operating in 1971, was controversial because it produced air pollutants that contributed to haze at the Grand Canyon.
Also the pipeline coaldelivery system required a huge amount of water, which was mixed with the coal to create a slurry that could be pumped through the line.
That water came from the Navajo Aquifer beneath Black Mesa, where Peabody Western Coal Co. operated a mine that provided the fuel. Use of that water depleted the underground reservoir and disrupted the tribe’s traditional water supply.
In 1999, the Sierra Club and two other groups filed suit against the plant owners, seeking to enforce federal clean air laws. In an out-of-court settlement, the owners agreed not to operate Mohave after 2005 without the necessary equipment to control sulfur dioxide and other pollutants.
Unable to negotiate a new coal contract and unable to reach an agreement with the Navajo and Hopi tribes on a new water supply, the owners decided to turn off the plant rather than invest millions in pollution controls. After further study, the co-owners except SRP decided in June to abandon any effort to restart the plant.
Southern California Edison spokesman Gil Alexander said his company would prefer to sell its ownership share in Mohave rather than see it decommissioned. He cited several reasons why Southern California Edison is ending its own involvement including state regulations that make coal projects “problematic” for California utilities.
Coggins believes SRP can overcome the difficulties. In addition to organizing an ownership group, he said the utility is meeting with the Office of Surface Mining, a federal agency, to complete an environmental impact statement on the project, including a new water source.
The proposal calls for construction of a new 108-mile pipeline from Leupp, Ariz., to the Peabody Western mine to provide water for the slurry line. The water would come from the Coconino Aquifer, a larger and deeper underground water source that covers much of northern Arizona, including tribal lands.
SRP is in discussions with tribal officials about drawing water from the Coconino Aquifer, Coggins said. He declined to discuss the negotiations, citing confidentially agreements. SRP also would need to negotiate a new coal contract.
If all goes according to plan, the plant could be on line by early 2011, he said. Environmental officials expressed unhappiness about SRP’s efforts but doubted the utility will be successful.
“I would think it would be highly speculative,” said Rod Smith, southwest representative of the Sierra Club. He warned that even with the added pollution controls, the plant would still produce carbon dioxide.
“We need to invest that money in wind and solar energy and greater efficiency instead of keeping an old dinosaur alive,” he said.