The Arizona Public Service Co. could decommission three generating units at the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington by the end of the year – a measure expected to improve air quality throughout the region.
The closure of the units – the oldest at the plant – is contingent on the company completing a new coal contract with Navajo Mine located on the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation, which supplies the plant.
Closing the three units would reduce nitrogen-oxide emissions by 36 percent, mercury by 61 percent, particulates by 43 percent, carbon monoxide by 30 percent and sulfur dioxide by 24 percent, according to news release from Arizona Public Service Co.
The power plant employs 549 workers, 74 percent of whom are Navajo Nation tribal members. The company said there will be no layoffs, but the closure could have a substantial economic impact on the tribe.
The closure is at minimum a year sooner than Navajo Nation officials were anticipating. That forced the tribe to reduce its revenue projections for 2013 by $10 million, said Erny Zah, spokesman for the Office of the President of the Navajo Nation.
“It’s going to be a challenging time for Navajo Nation when it comes to the closure of those three units,” Zah said. “It’s going to affect the taxes and revenue we get from the plant itself, and secondly going to affect revenue from the coal mine.”
The plant will require personnel through the decommissioning, but it has not determined how many employees will be needed after the process is complete, said APS spokesman Damon Gross.
The company plans to attain that number through normal attrition, he said. Several employees are either at or approaching retirement eligibility, and there are other employment opportunities in the company.
“These are important jobs in the community, and we want to do all we can to preserve that source of employment,” he said.
Arizona Public Service would need to install selective catalytic-reduction equipment at the three units to meet recent Environmental Protection Agency requirements. The upgrade would cost more than $568 million, Gross said.
Instead of upgrading the three units, the company is purchasing Southern California Edison’s 48 percent ownership in Units 4 and 5 at the plant for $249 million.
APS currently owns 15 percent of the two units. Other owners include Public Service of New Mexico, Salt River Project, El Paso Electric and Tucson Electric Power.
California state law requires Southern California Edison to ends its participation in the plant by 2016.
“The better course of action would be to purchase new, cleaner and more efficient units,” Gross said.
Environmental advocates say they are not sure what the environmental impact of Units 4 and 5 will be.
The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is currently working on an Environmental Impact Statement of the two units and Navajo Mine, said Mike Eisenfeld, the New Mexico energy coordinator for the San Juan Citizen Alliance.
“We think that (the statement) is going to raise a lot of questions,” Eisenfeld said. “That’s what we’re looking for in the impact statement. What will happen with the facility, the indirect and direct impact and what the past impacts have been.”
The power plant’s capacity would be reduced by 560 megawatts, from 2,100 to 1,540 megawatts. But Gross said acquiring additional ownership of the Units 4 and 5 is a net gain for APS customers.