PHOENIX (AP) -- The big coal-fired power plant outside Laughlin, Nev., has been shuttered for nearly three weeks, but operator Southern California Edison hopes to fire it back up despite huge odds against the effort.
The utility is asking the California Public Utilities Commission to let it charge customers the cost of "aggressively" trying to modify a 1999 legal settlement it made with environmental groups. In the deal, Edison agreed to upgrade the Mohave Generating Station's anti-pollution gear or shut it down by Jan. 1, 2006. It also wants ratepayers to pay for an agreement it's seeking with Peabody Western Coal Co. to keep its Arizona mine ready to provide fuel.
Edison also is hoping to come up with another source for the water a third company uses to move hundreds of tons of coal each day in a slurry through a 273-mile pipeline from Arizona to the plant.
The plant can provide enough power for 1.5 million average homes.
Environmental groups that sued Edison and the plant's co-owners in 1998 over pollution from the plant said they won't agree to any settlement modification. Built in 1971, the plant doesn't have modern pollution control devices like scrubbers to cut down on smoke and sulfur dioxide emissions.
"We would not be interested in just different ways to run the plant without any pollution controls," said Rob Smith, a Sierra Club representative. "They've looked for all kinds of ways to get around what they agreed to do without ... cleaning up the plant."
Edison won't comment on any settlement talks that may be under way.
The Sierra Club joined with the Grand Canyon Trust and the National Parks and Conservation Association to sue Edison and the plant's other owners in an effort to get them to install modern equipment. Partners in the plant include Edison, with 56 percent, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, 10 percent, Nevada Power, 14 percent and Arizona's Salt River Project, 20 percent.
Edison contends it's the iffy water supply for the slurry pipeline, not the cost, that led to its decision to delay upgrading the pollution controls and ultimately led to the shutdown.
"You would never invest more than a billion dollars in a plant that's about to shut down," said Gil Alexander, an Edison spokesman. Upgrading the plant and the pipeline are estimated to cost about $1.1 billion.
About 1,300 acre-feet of water are drawn from wells near Peabody's Black Mesa Mine in northern Arizona each year. Leaders of the Hopi and Navajo tribes blame the wells for dried-up springs on their reservations.
The contract to operate the wells also expired on Jan. 1. Edison expects results of a study soon to see if it can draw water from a deeper aquifer.
If that study shows plenty of available water and it can make a deal with the tribes to tap it, Alexander said Edison could move ahead with plans to put the pollution devices on the Mohave plant.
Haze and soot from the plant is the largest single source of visible pollution in the western Grand Canyon, and National Parks officials already plan a program to measure effects from the shutdown. Comprehensive results could take years.
The economic impact of the plant's shutdown will be significant, according to a University of Nevada-Reno report completed in 2002.
The plant contributes about $300 million per year to the economy in Nevada and Arizona through direct employment, mining and pipeline activity, the study showed. It employed 280 people, 260 worked at the Black Mesa mine and 52 in pipeline operations in 2002.
Operations at Black Mesa ceased on Dec. 31, Peabody spokeswoman Beth Sutton said. The mine work force had shrunk to 165 by then.
About 20 percent transferred to a nearby mine and the rest were laid off, with 15 percent taking retirement. Hundreds of other jobs are at risk as well, both on the reservations and near the plant.
The Navajo and Hopis also will lose millions per year in royalties and taxes.
Richard Mayon of the Grand Canyon Trust said he believes Edison intended to shutter the aging plant until a run-up in natural gas prices changed the economics of continued operation. Edison disputes that, saying they delayed putting in the needed upgrades because of uncertainty in the water supplies.
Mayon's group joined the Sierra Club and several other groups earlier this month in asking California regulators to set aside any money Edison may get for selling the plant's pollution credits into a fund to help the Navajo and Hopi tribes.
They want the money used to build a renewable energy project such as wind and solar power on the reservation as a way of backfilling for the lost revenue and employment.
Edison issued a press release strongly opposing the notion.
"To claim that an asset belonging to our customers should be transferred to others is unprecedented and inappropriate," the statement said.
orignally posted at the KPHO News
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