Aug 212015


*ADEQ Cholla

Photo by Nolan Madden

A rainbow is cast behind Cholla Power Plant in Joseph City following an Aug. 11 thunderstorm. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality last month proposed a major revision to the plant’s air quality control permits, requiring Arizona Public Service Company to discontinue burning coal at the facility by 2025.


By Nolan Madden

As the national discussion on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new ruling for coal-powered energy plants gains momentum, law bodies have continued to express dissenting opinions of support and opposition in the conversation. To date, 15 U.S. states have sought to block the EPA carbon rule, particularly those that have relied on coal for electricity.

Last week attorneys general for Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming formally asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to postpone the Clean Air Act, arguing the EPA has overstepped its regulatory authority, in hopes that states don’t spend time drafting compliance plans for a rule that may be dismissed in court if the EPA loses in a future lawsuit.

Meanwhile, county residents have also lent their voices to the exchange, particularly as it relates to the State of Arizona’s efforts at managing energy production and pollution control moving forward.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) recently provided such an opportunity, last month holding two public hearings on the subject in Holbrook and in Phoenix. The hearings were designed to solicit comments on ADEQ’s proposed joint revision to the Arizona State Regional Haze State Implementation Plan (SIP) and Air Quality Control Permit No. 53399 for Arizona Public Service Company (APS) for Cholla Generating Station in Joseph City.

APS owns Cholla Units 1, 2 and 3, and is the operating agent for Unit 4, which is wholly owned by PacifiCorp.

ADEQ officials explained the significant revision to the Cholla permit is intended as a component of the SIP revision to assist in satisfying the Arizona Regional Haze Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) requirements.

The SIP and permit revisions become active once the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan goes into effect. The permit revision requires APS to shut down the coal-fired Unit 2 boiler by April 1, 2016, and to discontinue burning coal in Units 1, 3 and 4 by April 30, 2025. Thereafter, APS may convert any or all of Units 1, 3 and 4 to pipeline-quality natural gas operation with a capacity factor not to exceed 20 percent.

This revision also revises the emission limits for nitrogen oxides (NOX) for all units operating on coal, and sets emission limits for Units 1, 3, and 4 for pipeline-quality natural gas operation, should APS choose to convert any of these units to natural gas operation.

ADEQ received mixed reactions from community members:

“Let Cholla keep burning coal and file for a waiver and/or change in the standards when Obama leaves office. Have APS embrace new clean coal burning solutions that would allow them to continue burning coal. As a last resort, shut down Unit 1 while fighting the air quality standards if they haven’t been changed when the time comes to shut the unit down. If it shuts down, keep a maintenance crew on it so it can be fired back up when the standards change,” commented Ed Rogers of Winslow.

“I’m all for keeping our environment clean and safe for not only us, but for future generations. I worked at the Cholla Power Plant for 36 years, and witnessed APS going above and beyond what was required by the EPA. The EPA continues to put more and more restrictions on coal plants to put them out of business. This will drive the cost of electricity up to where none of us will be able to afford electrical power. The cost of producing electricity with coal fired power plants is reasonable for now until other resources are developed,” said Arizonan Fred Morris.

“In support of improving and maintaining healthy air quality standards in the region and reducing reliance on fossil fuels, the City of Flagstaff supports the shutdown of the coal-fired Unit 2 boiler by April 1, 2016. Additionally, the city supports the discontinuation of burning coal in Units 1, 3 and 4, and prefers an expedited transition of these units. Flagstaff endorses a shift away from coal and diversification of APS’ energy portfolio. However, we are concerned about impacts of other potential fuel sources (including natural gas extraction methods), the volatility of natural gas prices and the need for adequate modeling of air quality impacts with all future fuel sources,” said City of Flagstaff spokesperson Stephanie Smith.

“APS has been a great partner in Navajo County, as well as in the surrounding areas. I want to offer my support for the public services proposal alternative for the Cholla generating station, also for the state’s proposed revision implementation plan, and strongly urge the ADEQ to approve both actions. In addition to the 250 jobs they supply to this area, over 1000 megawatts are supplied to the State of Arizona, over $30 million in economic activity, and over $50 million in state, local and federal taxes are paid each year by this power plant. The Cholla Power Plant is a part of the backbone in Navajo County and important to us,” said District III Navajo County Supervisor Jason Whiting.

“First of all, bravo to APS and PacifiCorp for making plans to end using coal at the aging Cholla Power Plant. Cholla is the nation’s worst park polluter, and it also impacts communities throughout northern Arizona. Closing one unit next year, and either closing the others or converting to cleaner natural gas is the admirable thing to do. However, it is disappointing to see this proposal take a step back, which the plant must do more so to comply with the Clean Air Act, and do right by this region. Cholla should have installed additional pollution controls that are economical and have been required at most other coal fired plants in the nation. Allowing more time for the plant to continue to harm Arizona’s residents and visitors is not acceptable,” said National Parks Conservation Association Senior Program Manager Kevin Dowell.

“I live in Mesa and I am going into eighth grade next semester. I am committed to stopping further damage to our climate because I want to enjoy a healthy planet. I want a future where my children, my grandchildren and their children will know what it is to breathe clean air, drink pure water, enjoy nutritious food and dwell in a stable environment with lots of diversity. I’m glad that the utilities are seeking to stop running coal at Cholla, but their solution is a little too late. I’m against Arizona’s plan because it will increase air pollution for 20 years, time we can’t afford to waste in the midst of climate crisis,” said Anna Rose Moore Alameda.

ADEQ will make a final decision on the proposed permit and SIP revision following consideration of all comments received during the public notice period, which ended July 14.