Council Supports State Implementation Plan for San Juan Plant

Courtesy Photo

By Carol A. Clark

Los Alamos County Council voted 5-2 to approve a resolution supporting New Mexico’s proposed State Implementation Plan in lieu of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Federal Implementation Plan for reducing regional haze from the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington.

The federal plan requires Selective Catalytic Reduction Technology to be installed at all four of the plant’s coal-fired electric generating units at what PNM’s consulting engineer estimates a cost of $750,000,000.

Los Alamos County owns a 7.2 percent share of unit 4, which meets approximately 50 percent of the electric requirements for Los Alamos County and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Department of Public Utilities Manager John Arrowsmith explained that local customers rely on the electricity produced by the San Juan Generation Station to help keep rates affordable and electric service reliable.

“The debt that the County issued to purchase its share of San Juan Generating Station will be paid off by 2015,” Arrowsmith said. “The County has been planning to use those savings to invest in new renewable resources and system reliability improvements. Additional investments in San Juan Generating Station required by EPA will reduce our ability to make those investments.”

The State Implementation Plan, at an estimated cost of $77,000,000 for installation at the San Juan Generating Station, meets all federal regional haze standards – one-tenth the cost of the Federal Implementation Plan. PNM has appealed the EPA enforcement of the Federal Implementation Plan.

To date, no other coal-fired power plant has been forced by EPA to adopt emission limits as stringent as those imposed on San Juan to meet regional haze standards.  

PNM, Gov. Susana Martinez, the New Mexico Environment Department and the Navajo Nation each have asked EPA to formally and fully review the State Implementation Plan and approve it.

Included in the reolution approved at Tuesday night’s regular council meeting, councilors agreed to communicate to New Mexico’s Congressional Delegation a request to encourage the EPA to issue a stay of enforcement proceedings while the courts pursue a review of the EPA’s best available reduction technology options to reduce regional haze from the San Juan Generating Station Operations.

Speaking out against the resolution at Tuesday’s meeting included representatives from the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters of Los Alamos.

Their position is that Los Alamos County has an obligation to the health of the region and are advocating the Federal Implementation Plan to reduce emissions as much as possible regardless of the additional cost.

The San Juan Plant owners spent $320 million on a major environmental upgrade in 2009.  

The upgrade resulted in a 44 percent NOx reduction, a 71 percent sulfur dioxide reduction and a 72 percent reduction in particulate matter.

Also, San Juan was one of the first plants in the country to install mercury removal equipment, which has resulted in a removal of 99 percent, Arrowsmith said.

“We have an obligation to balance the electric needs of our customers, keep costs affordable and protect the environment,” he said. “Los Alamos National Laboratory is the largest employer in Northern New Mexico and our largest customer. They are planning major expansions, substantially increasing their electric load to meet our national security needs. We need to wisely allocate our financial resources to meet our obligation to our customers, our State and our neighboring States. Adding the reasonable controls specified in the SIP to reduce San Juan Generating Station’s emissions helps us better meet the “good neighbor” requirements in the Clean Air Act, while ensuring that we meet the electric obligations to our customers, to keep costs affordable, and protect the environment.”

Now that the council has approved the resolution, the resolution will be forwarded to the New Mexico Congressional Delegation requesting them to encourage the EPA to issue a stay of enforcement proceedings.

PNM’s appeal will be heard by the court in November. If there is not an administrative stay, San Juan owners including Los Alamos County, will have spent a substantial portion of the cost of the Federal Implementation Plan to meet the 2016 deadline for compliance.

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