With much at stake for Arizona, a group of very different interests recently gathered to best determine how to provide certainty for our energy future while balancing the environmental impacts on national parks in the Southwest — in particular the Grand Canyon.
At the heart of the issue they faced is the Navajo Generating Station (NGS), a large, coal-fired power plant located on the Navajo Nation just outside of Page that not only generates electricity for millions of people but also provides the energy the Central Arizona Project (CAP) needs to bring water from the Colorado River to the people of southern and central Arizona.
Faced with an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to install additional emission-control equipment to NGS at a cost of up to more than $1 billion, Salt River Project and other owners of the plant, as well as CAP, accepted an invitation from the EPA to investigate other Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) as alternatives for NGS.
Together with the Environmental Defense Fund, U.S. Department of Interior, Navajo Nation, Gila River Indian Community and Western Resource Advocates, a Technical Working Group (TWG) was formed and a compromise was reached that both preserves air quality at our state’s national parks and protects the interests of Arizona’s citizens who rely on the plant for low-cost and reliable energy around-the-clock.
Depending on how ownership of the plant is resolved going forward, the proposal calls for the plant to shut down one of its three units in 2020 or reduce emissions by an equivalent amount between 2020 and 2030 — a significant decrease in emissions either way.
Importantly, the agreement also delays the costs associated with implementing costly additional environmental controls at the plant until 2030. That’s good news for electricity consumers and also a great benefit to CAP water customers.
This timing will allow CAP to lower costs for all of its customers and stakeholders through extended financing. Additionally, the costs for agricultural customers whose use of CAP water is projected to diminish considerably by 2030 will be meaningfully reduced. Finally, the Bureau of Reclamation has committed to work with affected Indian tribes in the coming years to address concerns about the impacts of the proposed changes to NGS over time, at no cost to CAP. In particular, Reclamation has agreed to seek options for mitigating costs for CAP water that tribes might otherwise expect to occur.
In a desert region such as ours, there is little argument as to the benefits of reliable electricity and abundant, low-cost water.
Conversely, there is little debate as to the value of our national parks, including the Grand Canyon.
The EPA must still review the proposal to determine whether it meets its criteria. If so, the agency will provide for a full public notice and host a series of meetings to gather public input.
In the meantime, the TWG agreement demonstrates that diverse interests can come together and reach a compromise to benefit all of Arizona.
• John Sullivan is SRP’s chief resource planning executive. David Modeer is general manager of the Central Arizona Project. Navajo Generating Station is a coal-fired power plant that provides electricity to customers in Arizona, Nevada and California, and energy to pump water through the Central Arizona Project. The participants in NGS include SRP, the plant’s operator; the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; Arizona Public Service Co.; Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; Tucson Electric Power Co.; and NV Energy.