Federal agencies partner to look at Navajo coal plant options

The U.S. Department of the Interior, Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency on Jan. 4 released a joint statement that lays out the agencies’ shared goals for the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station (NGS) and energy production in the region served by NGS.

In the statement, the three agencies agreed to work together to support Arizona and tribal stakeholders in finding ways to produce “clean, affordable and reliable power, affordable and sustainable water supplies, and sustainable economic development, while minimizing negative impacts on those who currently obtain significant benefits from NGS, including tribal nations.”

In addition to identifying shared goals, the statement announces specific activities the agencies intend to take jointly to help achieve those goals. These actions include:

  • creating a long-term DOI-EPA-DOE NGS working group;
  • working with stakeholders to develop an NGS roadmap;
  • committing to complete the second phase of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s report on clean, affordable, and sustainable energy options for NGS; and
  • supporting near-term investments that align with long-term clean energy goals.

NGS is a coal-fired power plant located on the Navajo Indian reservation approximately 15 miles from the Grand Canyon and owned partially by the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. Power from the facility is distributed to customers in Arizona, California, and Nevada. Reclamation’s share of the power is used to move water to tribal, agricultural, and municipal water users in central Arizona. The Department of the Interior, DOE and the EPA oversee other federal responsibilities or interests that relate to NGS. These include tribal trust responsibilities, protection of national parks and wilderness areas, visibility and public health protection, and clean energy development.

The 2,250-MW NGS is the largest coal-fired power plant in the West and has been in operation since 1974. Reclamation is its largest single owner, owning 24.3% of the plant. Five utilities own the remaining 75.7%: Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service, Tucson Electric Power, NV Energy and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Los Angeles said in an integrated resource plan issued last fall that it wants to divest its share of the plant to meet new California greenhouse gas standards.

Over the last few decades, NGS has invested in several pollution control technologies to reduce its emissions, but it remains one of the largest sources of NOx in the country, the joint agreement said. Emissions from NGS affect visibility at 11 National Parks and Wilderness Areas, and contribute to ozone and fine particle pollution in the region.

Under the direction and coordination of the NGS Working Group, Interior, EPA, and DOE intend to jointly support, through funding or other means, and working together with other NGS owners, tribes and stakeholders, the DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s “Phase 2” Navajo Generating Station report will analyze a full range of clean energy options for NGS over the next several decades. This Phase 2 NGS report is scheduled to be initiated in 2013 and will build on preliminary findings from the last chapter of the 2011-2012 NREL “Phase 1” report titled “Navajo Generating Station and Air Visibility Regulations: Alternatives and Impacts.”

The plant’s coal comes via train from the Kayenta strip mine in Arizona of Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU).

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.