I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Desert Rock company nixes coal for Nevada power project
The developers of the proposed Desert Rock coal-fired power plant in northwest New Mexico have switched tracks on another coal-fired plant they planned for southeastern Nevada, announcing this week they instead plan to build a natural gas plant at the Toquop site that includes a 50- 100 megawatt photovoltaic solar plant.
The shift away from coal in Nevada, along with the company’s near abandonment of a waste coal-fired project in Pennsylvania, raises questions about the future of the Desert Rock project, which had its air quality permit pulled by the Environmental Protection Agency last year.
A representative for Sithe Global Power’s parent group, Blackstone Group, said the Toquop plant’s environmental impact was “probably the single most important factor” in the decision to shift from coal to natural gas and solar at the Nevada location, reported the New York Times. The natural gas and solar plants are estimated to emit 60 percent less carbon dioxide and consume 60 percent less water than the coal-fired plant. Environmental groups lauded the decision.
“It is fantastic news that people in Nevada and Utah will not suffer the serious health problems a Toquop coal plant would have caused,” the Sierra Club said in a statement. “The mining, burning, and disposing of coal causes tens of thousands of hospitalizations and deaths across the country each year.”
“With its vast wind, solar and geothermal resources and potential for meeting demand with energy efficiency programs, the decision to move away from coal really does bode well for Nevada,” said Charles Benjamin, the state director of Western Resource Advocates, said in another statement. “It opens doors to an even swifter transition to 21st century energy technologies that will create jobs and revitalize Nevada’s economy.”
Sithe still plans coal-fired plants for New Mexico, Pennsylvania, but projects are stalled
Sithe Global’s Pennsylvania project stalled when the federal government refused to give guarantees on loans if the company defaults on them. Another stumbling block may be that the federal government wants the company to install carbon capture and sequestration technology on the Pennsylvania plant, according to a press account of a local county commission meeting in the area. The CCS technology would inject carbon dioxide, which is the main greenhouse gas that causes global warming, into the ground rather into the atmosphere. But the technology is largely untested on large power plants.
The use of cutting edge technology is also a factor in Sithe Global’s stalled New Mexico project. The Desert Rock plant, located on the Navajo Nation about 30 miles southwest of Farmington, hit a major snag last year when the Environmental Protection Agency pulled its air quality permit.
A joint project of the Navajo Nation and the company, the plans for the facility are widely acknowledged to be state of the art, minimizing emissions of various toxic pollutants to a much greater degree than older coal-fired power plants.
But while the Navajo Nation is a strong backer of the project, a coalition that includes Navajo and other local citizen groups, larger environmental organizations—and the State of New Mexico opposes the project.
Farmington is already home to three coal-fired power plants
If Sithe continues with plans at Desert Rock, it would be the third plant in a rural region that already rivals dense urban areas for deteriorated air quality. Plus, the plant would emit 10-12 million tons of the main greenhouse gas that causes global warming, carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.
The EPA found that the air quality permit was issued prematurely, before complete analysis could be conducted of hazardous air emissions or the impact of the facility on the surrounding eco-system.
Also, in their review of “best available technologies” for the plant, developers of the project didn’t include a process called integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC), the EPA said. Using IGCC technology–which turns the coal into gas before burning it–would make Desert Rock better able to control air pollution.
It’s unclear what will now happen regarding the Desert Rock project. Last December the company didn’t receive federal stimulus funds it sought to make the plant a carbon capture and sequestration technology demonstration project.
A spokesperson for the Desert Rock project hasn’t returned The Independent’s inquiry this week into whether the company has plans to switch from the use of coal at Desert Rock to natural gas or solar, as it is doing in Nevada.
Elouise Brown, president of a Navajo opposition group called Dooda Desert Rock, told The Independent her group isn’t against economic development in the form of energy projects as long as they’re not destructive to the environment or human health.
“We’re all for renewable energy as long as it’s healthy for the environment,” she said. “As long as they’re not trying to kill the people and the environment, we’re all for economic development on the Navajo Nation. But we’ll oppose any coal fired power plant.”