- Associated Press - Sunday, March 26, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - One of three coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners region of the southwest has been partially shut down and the other two could close in the next five years.

The change likely means cleaner air in the region where the borders of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet. But it also means hundreds of lost jobs for plant workers and coal miners, many of them members of the Navajo and Hopi tribes, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported (https://bit.ly/2o72ZI5 ).

The Four Corners region is home to the Hopi Reservation in Arizona and the Navajo Nation, which is primarily in the northeastern corner of Arizona but also spills into Utah and New Mexico.

The Public Service Company of New Mexico, the state’s largest utility company, announced last week that it is considering closing the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington as soon as 2022. It is already planning to shut down two of its four coal-fired units this year and generate more power from natural gas and a nuclear plant.

The power plants have been blamed for haze, higher asthma rates and premature death in the surrounding communities, according to government studies. They also create carbon dioxide, which is linked to climate change.

Jeremy Nichols of the environmental group WildEarth Guardians said coal isn’t the most profitable energy source, either.

“Coal, in many respects, is a dead man walking,” Nichols said. “Western utilities are finally realizing there are more affordable ways of providing electricity to their customers. . If you want to get rich (as a utility), you have to stop burning coal.”

PNM says modeling showed that closing half its coal-fired units could be financially beneficial and will allow it to incorporate more renewable energy.

A little more than a third of the plant’s 280 workers are Native American, the company said.

The owners of the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona, have voted to keep it open until 2019, but they say it could close as soon as July of this year. The shutdown would cut about 800 jobs, and the generating station is the only customer for Peabody Energy’s Kayenta Mine on the Navajo Nation.

The Navajo Nation has sought to keep the generating station open until at least 2030.

At the Four Corners Power Plant, which is also in the Navajo Nation south of Farmington, New Mexico, only two of five coal-burning units are operating in order to comply with federal clean air regulations. Arizona Public Service, the plant’s owner, says 400 people work there and 82 percent of them are Native American.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has repeatedly appealed to President Donald Trump’s administration to prop up the coal industry. The decline of the industry was one of the Republican candidate’s talking points when he was running for office.

“We understand we are in challenging times where natural gas is impacting the numbers and ongoing operations for all coal-powered power plants,” Begaye said in a statement.

The statement asked the Trump administration to “possibly waive other requirements that are causing the two generators of San Juan to close in 2017. These requirements impact both the San Juan power plant and the Navajo Generating Station. The waiver of these requirements will help us maintain these jobs.”


Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com

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