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Requiem for the largest coal-fired power plant in the west

World Coal,

The largest coal-fired power plant in the West could witness a long route to closure as regulations from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take their toll.

The Navajo Generating Station will produce on-third less energy in 2020 and could close altogether in 2044 under a proposal adopted by the federal government to cut haze-causing emissions of nitrogen oxide at places like the Grand Canyon.

The 2250 MW coal-fired power plant outside Page, Arizona, lies less than 20 miles from the Grand Canyon – a cite visited each year by more than 4.4 million visitors.

“By cutting pollution from NGS, millions of visitors will see the magnificent vistas of the Grand Canyon with greater clarity," said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "This flexible and practical solution will also generate critical tribal revenues, improve public health, provide long-term certainty to power and water utilities and set the stage for a transition to a clean energy future."

In crafting the rule, EPA held five public hearings, had 50 consultations with tribes and considered 77,000 public comments. EPA’s final action on NGS follows two proposals released in 2013 to cut NOx emissions at the plant.

The EPA has announced that the owners of the Navajo Generating Station could either shut down one of the plant’s 750 MW units or reduce power generation by an equivalent amount across all its units. The owners would have until 2030 to install pollution controls that would cut nitrogen-oxide emissions by 80%.

The power plant has been integral to meeting the energy demands in the West, and it is also responsible for powering a series of canals that deliver water to Phoenix and Tuscon. It also fuels the economies of the Navajo and Hopi Native American tribes, and helps fulfill American Indian water-rights settlements with the federal government. Acknowledging the vital role the power plant plays, Blumenfeld said, "This is so complex and integrated into the fabric of Arizona.”

In recent years, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and NV Energy, which collectively own almost one third of the facility, announced their intentions to divest from the Navajo Generating Station by 2019. The other owners of the plant, run by the Salt River Project, would therefore not lose any power generation as a result of the ownership changes.

"On the whole, while we're increasing our costs associated with the plant, the plant itself is still valuable enough to our customers and Arizona for us to continue," Salt River Project spokesman Scott Harelson said.

Some have called the EPA’s regulations unlawful. Kevin Dahl, senior program manager at the National parks Conservation Association’s Arizona field office, said the EPA decision would likely be challenged: "It's really the utilities and people who benefit from the production of the power who signed on to this alternative," he said. "They're just kicking it down the road."

The EPA received about 77,000 comments on the alternative proposal. The agency cannot mandate the closure of power plants, but it was able to include the option in the final rule because it was proposed by the plant owners.

The final rule means the Navajo Nation ultimately will see less revenue from coal that feeds the power plant. But the executive director of the tribe's Environmental Protection Agency, Stephen Etsitty, said it provides a better chance of the power plant continuing operations.

"Of course it's not perfect," Etsitty said. "It's an indication that EPA is really open to the recommendations of local stakeholders. To me, that's a good move in the right direction."

The EPA's rule goes into effect 60 days after it's published in the federal register, which is expected to happen within two to three weeks.

Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson

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