Office of Surface Mining takes extra comment on Four Corners plan

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining said in an Oct. 12 Federal Register notice that it is reopening and extending the scoping comment period deadline, from Sept. 17 to Nov. 1, related to a planned environmental impact statement for the Four Corners power plant and Navajo Mine Energy Project.

In the scoping process, a government agency takes comment on what should be included in the planned EIS. On July 18, OSM published a notice of intent to prepare an EIS for the coal-fired Four Corners plant and Navajo Mine Energy Project, setting the original Sept. 17 comment deadline. But the agency said there was a request or requests for more time.

The EIS will analyze:

  • the impacts for the BHP Navajo Coal Co. proposed Pinabete mine permit and for the Navajo mine permit renewal, both of which are located on the Navajo Reservation in San Juan County, N.M.;
  • the impacts of Arizona Public Service Co.’s proposed Four Corners plant lease amendment, located on the Navajo Reservation in San Juan County, and associated transmission line rights-of-way renewals for lines located on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations in San Juan County in New Mexico, and Navajo, Coconino and Apache counties in Arizona; and
  • the impacts for a Public Service Co. of New Mexico transmission line rights-of-way renewal associated with the Four Corners plant and located on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico.

Four Corners currently includes five units generating about 2,100 MW. APS operates the plant, and recently executed Lease Amendment No. 3 with the Navajo Nation to extend the term of the lease for the plant an additional 25 years, to 2041.

“The desired future operation of the FCPP plant site involves removing Units 1, 2, and 3 from service on or before 2014, installing pollution control upgrades on Units 4 and 5, and continued operation of the independent switch yard and transmission lines,” OSM said in its original July 18 notice. “This scenario would substantially reduce coal consumption and air emissions, and lower the power output of the plant to approximately 1,500 megawatts. The ash disposal area would expand in future years within the current FCPP lease boundary. There is no proposed change to the exterior boundary of the FCPP site, the switch yard, or any of the transmission lines and ancillary facilities as part of the proposed actions.”

BHP Navajo, a unit of international miner BHP Billiton, proposes to develop a new, approximately 5,600-acre permit area, called the Pinabete permit. This proposed permit area lies within the boundaries of BHP Navajo’s existing Navajo mine lease, which is located adjacent to the Four Corners plant on tribal trust lands on the Navajo Reservation. BNCC proposes to conduct surface mining operations on a 3,100-acre portion of the proposed Pinabete area.

Pinabete, in conjunction with the mining of any reserves remaining within the existing Navajo mine permit area, would supply low-sulfur coal to the power plant at a rate of about 5.8 million tons per year. Development of the Pinabete area and associated coal reserves would, based on current projected customer needs, supply coal to the plant for up to 25 years beginning in 2016.

The partial shutdown of Four Corners has been in the works for some time. Pinnacle West Capital Corp. (NYSE: PNW), the parent of APS, is working on a buy of the part of the Four Corners plant owned by Southern California Edison. The plan is to buy SCE’s 739 MW interest in Four Corners Unit 4-5, then shut 560 MW of capacity within Units 1-3 for clean-air reasons. APS would also need to spend about $300m for new emissions controls on the surviving coal capacity. APS already owns 100% of Units 1-3. The shutdown of those units, plus the buy of the SCE interests, will reduce the plant’s overall capacity from 2,100 MW to 1,540 MW, and increase APS’s entitlement from the plant from 791 MW to 970 MW.

SCE, a subsidiary of Edison International (NYSE: EIX), is working to comply with California greenhouse gas policy that essentially makes in-state utilities shed their interests in any coal-fired electricity being imported into the state.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.