Tag Archives: San Juan Generating Station

4/6/2011 Daily Times: San Juan Generating Station operator requests permit change

4/6/2011 Daily Times: San Juan Generating Station operator requests permit changes [11:10 a.m.] By Chuck Slothower Posted: 04/06/2012 11:09:15 AM MDT: FARMINGTON — The operator of San Juan Generating Station on Friday requested changes to the coal plant’s air permit to allow for the installation of new pollution controls demanded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Public Service Co. of New Mexico has been battling with the EPA over what kind of technology it should install to meet federal haze-reduction requirements.

“We are prepared to move forward on installing new environmental controls that will meet federal visibility requirements and further reduce the plant’s emissions,” PNM chief executive Pat Vincent-Collawn said in a prepared statement Friday. “Our strong preference is to do this in the most cost-effective way so that the cost to PNM customers and our state’s economy is kept as low as possible.”

PNM is pushing a state plan to install nonselective catalytic reduction technology. But the EPA has mandated selective catalytic reduction, a more expensive but much more effective technology.

The Albuquerque-based utility company says the state plan would cost about $77 million, while the EPA’s mandate would cost $750 million or more. The EPA counters that SCR would cost only $345 million.
Friday’s filing with the state Environment Department requests air permit changes that would allow for the installation of either technology.

The plant’s current permit level for nitrogen oxides is 0.30 pounds per MMBtu and would be lowered to either 0.23 pounds per mmBtu with the installation of SNCR or 0.05 pounds per MMBtu with the installation of SCR, the utility said.

Located west of Farmington in Waterflow, San Juan Generating Station produces 1,800 megawatts of electricity. The city of Farmington owns a portion of one of the plant’s four units.

On March 28, PNM and San Juan Mine operator BHP Billiton agreed to a $10 million settlement with the Sierra Club to take steps aimed at keeping coal waste out of nearby streams.

10/26/2011 Environmental Groups Support Haze Reduction

10/26/2011 Indian Country Today: Environmental Groups Support Haze Reduction By Carol Berry: The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has approved a motion by several environmental groups to intervene in a lawsuit involving mandated pollution controls at the 2,040-megawatt San Juan Generating Station. The New Mexico plant is believed to be the first facility required to adhere to a regional haze program, according to an environmental spokesman. The 1999 regional haze program under the Clean Air Act is designed to protect areas of “great scenic importance”—certain national parks, wilderness areas, national memorials and international parks—from manmade air pollution.

“Visibility impairment by air pollution occurs virtually all the time at most national park and wilderness area monitoring stations,” according to the Federal Register, which also notes that the visibility problem “is caused primarily by emission into the atmosphere of (sulfur dioxide), oxides of nitrogen, and particulate matter, especially fine particulate matter, from inadequately controlled sources.”

“Under the Clean Air Act, the idea was that older, antiquated, coal plants were going to be decommissioned,” but that did not happen at the station, said Mike Eisenfeld, energy coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. Instead, PNM, New Mexico’s largest electricity provider, filed for an extension of the station’s present lifespan until 2053, he added.

Besides the Alliance, groups seeking to intervene include Dine’ Citizens against Ruining Our Environment (Dine’ CARE), Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association and New Energy Economy.

Sixteen National Parks or other protected historic and scenic areas are within the area affected by haze from the station and other area power plants, with particular concern for air quality at Mesa Verde National Park, only 35 or 40 miles to the north, Eisenfeld said.

Some concerns of area residents center on health effects as well as haze reduction in National Parks and other areas.

“The Navajo people living in the area of San Juan County and the Four Corners area are deeply impacted by the pollution, the haze—we’ve lived there on our ancestral lands forever, and we’ll always be there, said Anna M. Frazier, a spokesperson for Dine’ CARE. “But pollution has a great impact on our health and has a terrible impact on the vegetation—the herbs for healing,” she said, explaining that people now have to go to the mountains to gather plants that once were closer at hand.

“There used to be concern only for older people being affected, but now younger people and children have asthma and hospital records show that,” she said of the station, which is operated by the New Mexico Environment Department to meet EPA mandates, whose antipollution plan for the station is the issue in litigation.

Aesthetic and health concerns aside, PNM “is trying to portray it (upgrade cost) as unfair, like Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Generating Station and other 50-year-old facility costs to upgrade, which they’re saying is $1 billion. They say they should be able to have a less-effective technical ‘fix,’” Eisenfeld said, “and we’re saying that’s not good enough.”

Although catalytic emission controls on the station are estimated to cost $750 million to $1 billion, controls already installed remove some of the pollutants before they are released from the stack, according to EPA, so that costs would be reduced.

The station, which “continues to be one of the highest emitters of nitrous oxide” is one of the “huge, polluting facilities (that) deter economic development,” Eisenfeld said.

Although the station employs some 400 workers, he said he believes that if it completed the emission control fix, “it would create more jobs.”

Eisenfeld said the increase in employment would be from workers hired to clean up the plant and to install the system that would cut pollution through selective catalytic reduction. He didn’t have estimates for the increase in workers.

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2011/10/environmental-groups-support-haze-reduction/

9/16/2011 Albuquerque Journal Online AP: PNM Files Appeal Over Power Plant Proposal

9/16/2011 Albuquerque Journal Online: PNM Files Appeal Over Power Plant Proposal By Susan Montoya Bryan / The Associated Press: New Mexico’s largest electric utility is going to court in hopes of putting the brakes on a plan by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to trim emissions from a coal-fired power plant that serves more than 2 million customers throughout the Southwest. Public Service Company of New Mexico filed an appeal Friday in federal court. The company is seeking to stay a decision made in August in which the EPA rejected an attempt by the state and PNM to scale back an order for installing what they consider top-of-the-line emission-cutting technology at the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington.

The EPA gave PNM five years to install selective catalytic reduction technology to reduce haze-causing emissions.

PNM contends the technology is unnecessary, expensive and would result in a financial burden for customers.

Read more: ABQJournal Online » PNM Files Appeal Over Power Plant Proposal http://www.abqjournal.com/main/2011/09/16/abqnewsseeker/pnm-files-appeal-over-power-plant-proposal.html#ixzz1YAdWgMfB
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Related Content

EPA Comment Period Wraps Up for Power Plant 04/04/2011
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EPA Extends Comment Period for San Juan Generating Station To April 4 03/03/2011
State Approves Alternative for San Juan Generating Station Emissions 06/02/2011
Environmentalists Slam Haze Plan 04/16/2011

Read more: ABQJournal Online » PNM Files Appeal Over Power Plant Proposal

Durango Telegraph: EPA cracks down on San Juan Generating Station

Durango Telegraph: EPA cracks down on area power plantOne of the Four Corners biggest polluters is in line for a make-over. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new rules that will require “modern controls” for the San Juan Generating Station. Not surprisingly, Public Service Co. of New Mexico (PNM), the power plant’s owner, has objected to the new ruling and is already planning an appeal. Located just west of Farmington, the San Juan Generating Station has been burning coal to generate electricity for more than 40 years. The plant also produces 16,000 tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions each year and is ranked as the ninth dirtiest coal-fired plant in the West. Nitrogen oxide not only creates haze, it is a primary ingredient in ground-level ozone, “the most widespread pollutant in the United State (and) one of the most dangerous,” according to the American Lung Association. Ozone has been linked with asthma attacks, respiratory problems, lung damage and premature death.

The EPA rule announced last Thursday will require the addition of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) pollution controls on the plant’s four boilers in the next five years. The upgrade is expected to cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent. The announcement is also a landmark and the EPA’s first federal plan in the country to limit nitrogen oxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. Watchdogs and conservationists hailed the move as a victory.

“We are pleased that EPA has done right in this precedent setting rule-making for the communities adversely affected by continued reliance on energy export coal-derived electricity,” said Mike Eisenfeld, of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “The true costs of relying on coal are coming to bear, and PNM is being held accountable for their pollution.”

The State of New Mexico and PNM take a dimmer view and had been lobbying for a different approach to pollution control at the San Juan Generating Station. However, their plan would have cut nitrogen oxide emissions by just 20 percent. The company is now arguing that the EPA’s plan will be an undue burden on New Mexico customers and is planning to appeal the decision.

“The EPA plan adds unnecessary costs to one of our lowest-cost sources of reliable power,” said Pat Themig, PNM vice president of generation. “If it stands, it will lead to significantly higher future electric rates for the 2 million customers who rely on the plant for reasonably priced power.”

Themig added that the EPA plan will require expenditures in excess of $750 million, while PNM’s would have cost just $77 million. The State of New Mexico concurred and in June approved the lower cost option at San Juan.

“The Clean Air Act gives each state the authority to implement a regional haze program appropriate for the state, and New Mexico exercised this authority when it approved its own plan in June,” Themig said. “EPA’s decision does not relieve it of legal responsibility to fully consider New Mexico’s plan.”

Eisenfeld countered that Themig’s argument is beside the point and argued that the company should be exploring 21st century technology and abandoning its reliance on coal-fired power.

“PNM could be transitioning to more sustainable energy forms in the Four Corners region that more readily reflect current renewable energy technologies rather than retrofitting 1970s archaic coal plants at continued high cost to our communities,” he said.

Donna House, of Diné CARE, a Navajo conservation organization, agreed. “Pollution from this plant has been hurting our communities for generations,” she said. “Cutting coal pollution is a must, and moving to a cleaner energy than coal is the real answer.”

EPA New Mexico Interstate Transport and Regional Haze

EPA New Mexico Interstate Transport and Regional Haze: EPA is issuing a final source-specific federal plan that will help protect public health and improve visibility at 16 of our most treasured parks including the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde and Bandelier National Monument. As it has with states across the country, EPA has been working with the state of New Mexico to put in place a long over-due plan to address emissions that impair visibility in national parks and wilderness areas. Today’s federal plan relies on proven, cost-effective and widely used technologies to protect public health in New Mexico and neighboring states by cutting dangerous nitrogen oxide emissions by over 80 percent from one of the nation’s largest polluting power plants. These efforts will dramatically improve visibility in 16 park and wilderness areas in the southwestern US, decreasing the number of days with impaired scenic views and as a result, promoting local tourism.

In response to comments received on the proposal, EPA has extended the compliance timeline by two years, giving the facility five years to meet the requirement. Although the state plan New Mexico recently submitted to the agency did not provide a basis to delay today’s decision, EPA will review the plan promptly and remains committed to working with New Mexico on this important issue.
Federal Register Notice: Final Rule (114 pp, 602 KB, About PDF)
Proposed rule public comments (regulations.gov)

8/6/2011 EPA requires cleanup at NM coal-powered plant

8/6/2011 Summit County Citizens Voice: EPA requires cleanup at NM coal-powered plant New pollution controls at coal-fired plant near the Four Corners will benefit public health and reduce regional haze; Utility company says it will appeal the federal decision By Summit Voice: SUMMIT COUNTY — Residents of the Four Corners region and tourists in the famed national parks in the area will be able to breathe a bit easier after the EPA this week issued a final rule that will help cut harmful nitrogen oxide emissions from the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico by 80 percent. The coal plant also emits more than 5,500 tons of sulfur dioxide per year.

The EPA’s decision is part of a larger effort to implement Clean Air Act provisions that have long been ignored by state and and federal regulators. The rules require a reduction in regional haze that clouds views in more than 150 national parks and wilderness areas.

According to a Clean Air Task Force report, San Juan Generating Station is responsible for more than 80 percent of the air pollution at Mesa Verde National Park, just across the border in Colorado. It also contributes to air pollution at the Grand Canyon and many other nationally protected landscapes. Parks in the region support thousands of jobs and the millions of people who visit them each year contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to local economies.

The plant’s operator, Public Service Company of New Mexico, said it will appeal the ruling and warned in a prepared statement that the cost of retrofitting the plany with up-to-date pollution controls will increase energy prices for consumers.

The usual cast of characters, including business groups and some elected officials, lobbied against the new EPA rules, saying that a less aggressive state plan would cost less and also reduce air pollution, but the EPA’s exhaustive environmental study of the plant shows the state plan would not meet air quality standards.

The power company estimates it could cost up to $750 million to retrofit the plant, while according to the EPA’s economic analysis, the cost should be closer to $230 million.

Either way, the power company doesn’t take into account the indirect costs of the air pollution. By some estimates, premature deaths, asthma attacks, heart attacks, chronic bronchitis, and hospital visits from San Juan Generating Station’s pollution have cost an estimated $255 million a year.

The EPA decision to limit nitrogen oxide emissions from all four boilers at the San Juan plant will likely require the operators to retrofit the plant with selective catalytic reduction pollution controls. It’s the first federal plan in the country that will require adequate pollution controls to limit nitrogen oxide emissions under Clean Air Act provisions to reduce regional haze. There are decades-old plants with major pollution problems in more than 40 other states that will face similar decisions on pollution upgrades in the coming year or two.

Conservation groups see the limits on the San Juan plant as a possible bellwether of what’s to come at other plants. Requiring coal-fired power plants to comply with environmental laws could help speed the pace of transition to cleaner fuels.

At the most fundamental level, reducing the nitrogen oxide pollution is a public health issue. Nitrogen oxide reacts with other compounds to form small particles that penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs. It is also a raw ingredient in ground-level ozone, which the American Lung Association calls “the most widespread pollutant in the U.S. [and] one of the most dangerous.” Ozone leads to asthma attacks, respiratory problems, lung damage, and even premature death.

“Pollution from this plant has been hurting our communities for generations,” said Donna House with Diné CARE, a volunteer-driven conservation organization on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners region. “Cutting coal pollution is a must, and moving to a cleaner energy than coal is the real answer.”

San Juan Generating Station currently dumps nearly 16,000 tons of nitrogen oxide into the air each year, making it the ninth worst polluter out of more than 40 coal plants in Western states. Together with the nearby 48-year-old Four Corners Power Plant (worst in the west for nitrogen oxide), the two coal-burning plants’ combined emissions account for at least two-thirds of total nitrogen oxide pollution in San Juan County where they’re located and a quarter of all nitrogen oxide emissions statewide in New Mexico. The American Lung Association has given San Juan County an “F” grade for ozone pollution due to the number of days each year that it surpasses levels of ozone concentrations that the ALA considers unhealthy.

“Over the years, we’ve seen more and more children and adults coming in with asthma and respiratory problems, especially from the areas affected by the coal plant emissions,” said Adella Begaye, a nurse with 20 years of experience on the Navajo Nation. “Big polluters such as the San Juan and Four Corners coal plants have to be held responsible for the health costs they cause.”

The state and San Juan Generating Station owner PNM had lobbied for far less effective pollution controls which would have cut nitrogen oxide emissions by just 20percent.

Other plants in the Southwest that will face pollution-control improvements include the 38-year-old Navajo Generating Station in Arizona (fourth worst among western state coal plants for nitrogen oxide pollution), Four Corners, and the 46-year-old Reid Gardner Station near Las Vegas. Long overdue deadlines are being set now for decisions on pollution-control upgrades at more than 70 aging coal-burning plants around the country.

The EPA stepped in as a result of the absence of an adequate state plan to reduce pollution at San Juan Generating Station. EPA’s decision to require an 80 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide pollution at the plant is broadly supported by other federal agencies, including the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as public health, environmental, tribal, and other community organizations regionally and nationally. These include San Juan Citizens Alliance, Diné CARE, WildEarth Guardians, National Parks Conservation Association, Earthjustice, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and others.

Western U.S. experts on energy and the environment praise the decision to reduce the dangerous air pollution from one of America’s oldest and dirtiest coal plants.

“EPA’s action to clean up the San Juan Generating Station will protect public health, and will also help clear the haze at Mesa Verde National Park and our other cherished wilderness areas in the Four Corners region,” said Pamela Campos of Environmental Defense Fund’s Rocky Mountain office. “Today’s decision sets a strong precedent for reducing coal plant pollution, protecting our families’ health, and preserving our parks around the country.”

“We are pleased that EPA has not bowed to corporate pressure and is protecting our air quality and beautiful landscapes and vistas for ourselves and our children”, said Steve Michel, Chief Counsel for Western Resource Advocates’ Energy Program.

“The money that Public Service Company of New Mexico will need to spend to install the industry-standard pollution controls demonstrates how the cost of coal is rapidly increasing throughout the country,” said Bill Corcoran, Western Region Director, Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Coal is a horribly dirty and dangerous fossil fuel and it takes a tremendous toll on our health and pocketbooks each and every day. Especially as clean energy resources such as solar and wind have become more affordable, it is absurd that utilities would continue throwing their customer’s money at an increasingly expensive fossil fuel like coal,” he concluded.

8/10/2011 High Country News: Haze be gone

8/10/2011 High Country News: Haze be gone: When I started researching regional haze rules a few months back, a source warned me that I was wading into the Clean Air Act’s wonkiest, most technically complicated depths. I remember her asking me something like: “Are you sure you want to go there?” Which is to say, you’d be forgiven if you paid little attention to regional haze. Eyes tend to glaze over at mention of the term. But here’s why you should care about haze rules: They’re poised to make a major dent in the air pollutants spewed from the West’s oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants. Facing huge costs to bring it into compliance with haze regulation, the Boardman power plant in Oregon decided to close in 2020, 20 years ahead of schedule. The Navajo Generating Station could suffer a similar fate. And last week, after rejecting the state of New Mexico’s plan for clearing the haze caused by emissions from the San Juan Generating Station, the Environmental Protection Agency issued the final version of its own plan for the coal plant,which requires it to install better pollution controls that reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by a whopping 80 percent.

The goal of the haze rules is to restore air quality in national parks and wilderness areas, or Class 1 areas in regulatory jargon. The San Juan Generating Station is to thank for most of the air pollution that shrouds Mesa Verde. And the pollutants falling under haze regulation also impact public health, causing respiratory ailments and asthma, for example. According to the Summit County Citizens Voice, the San Juan Generating Station and the Four Corners Power Plant nearby are collectively responsible “for at least two-thirds of total nitrogen oxide pollution in San Juan County … and a quarter of all nitrogen oxide emissions statewide in New Mexico. The American Lung Association has given San Juan County an “F” grade for ozone pollution due to the number of days each year that it surpasses levels of ozone concentrations that the ALA considers unhealthy.”

Environmentalists are praising the EPA’s crackdown on the generating station, and hoping it’s a sign of more tough rules to come. As the Citizens Voice reports: “There are decades-old plants with major pollution problems in more than 40 other states that will face similar decisions on pollution upgrades in the coming year or two.”

Cally Carswell is HCN’s assistant editor.
http://www.hcn.org/hcn/blogs/goat/haze-be-gone

Mike Eisenfeld
New Mexico Energy Coordinator
San Juan Citizens Alliance
108 North Behrend, Suite I
Farmington, New Mexico 87401
office 505 325-6724
cell 505 360-8994
meisenfeld@frontier.net

8/5/2011 NPCA Applauds EPA's Decision to Limit Air Pollution at San Juan Generating Station to Protect National Parks and People

8/5/2011 PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact: Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Counsel, National Parks Conservation Association, W: 865-329-2424, C: 865-964-1774, skodish@npca.org and Jeff Billington, Senior Media Relations Manager, National Parks Conservation Association, (202) 419-3717, jbillington@npca.org : NPCA Applauds EPA’s Decision to Limit Air Pollution at San Juan Generating Station to Protect National Parks and People: Federal Agency Responsible for Protecting Air Holds Major Polluter Accountable by Setting Adequate Limits on Damaging Emissions “Despite facing extreme pressure to allow weaker standards, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 6 today released adequate requirements for the San Juan Generating Station, which finally bring it in line with the standards dictated by the Clean Air Act’s regional haze rule. This decision by the EPA is a prime example of the type of requirements that are needed to protect the health and future of our national parks and the people who live near and visit them.

“The clean-up plan requires one of the nation’s dirtiest coal plants to install modern pollution controls; controls that are routinely used at other coal plants nationwide. We strongly support the EPA in applying similar standards to other antiquated power plants currently belching pollution into national parks across the country.

“Because of the EPA and this plan, the people of and visitors drawn to this region will be able to breathe easier and to see clearer the incredible splendor of places like Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon. We look forward to the EPA’s work in future months to require similar pollution limits, which truly take the intent of the Clean Air Act to heart, to additional power plants nationwide.”

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8/5/2011 Clean Air Plan for San Juan Generating Station Finalized: New Mexico on Track for Significant Public Health and Environmental Protection Contact: Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x 1303 Download the EPA’s Proposal: San Juan County, NM—A milestone plan to limit haze and smog forming pollution by more than 80% from the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico was finalized today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The plan marks the first EPA plan in the nation to clean up aging coal-fired power plants, setting a high bar for the protection of public health and the environment.

“This is a huge step forward for clean air and clean energy in New Mexico,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “This plan puts public health and the environment first using the most up-to-date cost-effective pollution controls are used. This is a win-win plan.”

The EPA is finally taking action to clean up the San Juan Generating Station in response to a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has been required to ensure the oldest and dirtiest sources of air pollution curb their emissions to reduce haze in National Parks and wilderness areas.

Modeling prepared by Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, shows the San Juan Generating Station contributes to 80% of all visibility degradation in Mesa Verde National Park, 70% in the San Pedro Parks Wilderness, and 45% in Bandelier National Monument. Called “Best Available Retrofit Technology,” the EPA’s plan would reduce visibility impairment by more than 40%.

Under the EPA’s plan, which was proposed in early January of this year, PNM will be required to meet updated limits on haze forming nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution. The San Juan Generating Station would have to meet a nitrogen oxide emission rate of 0.05 lb/mmbtu through the use of selective catalytic reduction, the most up-to-date, cost-effective control technology, reducing emissions by more than 80%. The company will have to meet these limits within five years.

The same pollutants that form haze are the same that form smog and particulates. In 2010, the American Lung Association gave San Juan County’s air quality an “F” for because of smog pollution. It is estimated that every year, haze, smog, and particulates from the San Juan Generating Station cause 33 premature deaths, 50 heart attacks, 600 asthma attacks, 21 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 31 asthma-related emergency room visits every year at a cost of more than $250 million.

Still, WildEarth Guardians has called on PNM to instead spend its money to fully retire the San Juan Generating Station and offset the electricity it generates with renewable energy. New Mexico already has a 20% renewable energy standard and reports show that a combination of rooftop solar and wind energy could meet New Mexico’s power needs by more than seventy-fold. Utilities in Colorado and other states are beginning to retire coal-fired power plants, opting against investing millions in the face of mounting environmental liability.

“Clean air and clean energy go hand in hand,” said Nichols. “There is no such thing as clean coal and we hope PNM uses this opportunity to transition toward cleaner energy. If not, we are at least heartened that we have the strongest safeguards in place to protect our communities from the San Juan Generating Station.”

Although the State of New Mexico was originally required to adopt a clean up plan for the San Juan Generating Station, because of delay and the inability of the state to develop a plan that complied with the Clean Air Act, the EPA developed its own proposal. Under the Clean Air Act, where states fail to protect clean air, the EPA is legally obligated to develop federal plans. The EPA’s plan still allows the State of New Mexico to develop its own plan, so long as it is at least as strong.
Operated and primarily owned by Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, the San Juan Generation Station is an 1,800 megawatt power plant that every year releases thousands of tons of toxic air pollution from its smokestacks.

Located 15 miles west of Farmington, the plant consists of four boilers and releases more than 18,000 tons of smog forming nitrogen oxide gases, 51 pounds of mercury, and more than 13,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide—as much as is released by more than 2.3 million passenger vehicles.

Op Ed on San Juan Generating Station: Healthy Air is Healthy for Our Economy

Op Ed on San Juan Generating Station: Healthy Air is Healthy for Our Economy By David Van Winkle and Adella Begaye: Labored breathing, coughing, burning lungs. If you’ve done outdoor activity on a hot day with bad air quality, you may know the feeling. For a child with asthma, those high-smog days can bring on suffocating attacks. For someone with respiratory or cardiovascular problems, they can be fatal. That’s why the recent news is so welcome that one of our region’s biggest air polluters – the San Juan Generating Station – will have to dramatically reduce its emissions. On Friday, Aug. 5, the EPA announced that it will require the nearly 40-year-old coal-burning power plant near Farmington to cut its nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 80 percent.

Nitrogen oxide is one of the raw ingredients in ozone, the invisible chemical in smog that the American Lung Association calls “the most widespread pollutant in the U.S. [and] one of the most dangerous.” Ozone leads to asthma attacks, respiratory problems, lung damage, and even premature death. Nitrogen oxide is also an ingredient in fine particle pollution that penetrates deeply into the lungs.

The San Juan plant near Farmington dumps nearly 16,000 tons of nitrogen oxide into the air each year. If you add in emissions from the nearby 48-year-old Four Corners Power Plant – another of the nation’s dirtiest – the two account for at least two-thirds of all nitrogen oxide pollution in San Juan County and a quarter of the total statewide.

That outsized negative impact on our air is why requiring old coal plants to install overdue pollution controls is so important. Especially in the surrounding areas most affected by their pollution, such as on the Navajo Nation, we’ve seen the pollution linked to too many children and adults who need frequent medical attention for asthma and other respiratory problems.

The harm done to human health by these coal pollutants carries heavy financial costs. Asthma attacks, heart attacks, premature deaths and hospital visits from San Juan Generating Station’s pollution add up to an estimated $255 million a year in health care expenses that are passed on to the public, according to the independent Clean Air Task Force.

In its effort to keep San Juan Generating Station running without adequate pollution controls, PNM has greatly exaggerated the cost of the pollution controls – called selective catalytic reduction – that are needed to meet EPA’s nitrogen oxide limit. According to EPA, which bases its estimates on hundreds of other plants that have already installed this technology, it should cost $345 million to bring San Juan up to standard – one-third of the exaggerated costs PNM is claiming.

In fact, the billion-dollar cost estimate PNM is making up for installing selective catalytic reduction is nearly twice the highest cost on record for any previous installation of these controls. Given that PNM owns just under half the facility, the cost that it should really be putting forth publicly is about $160 million.

Compared to the toll on human health exacted by burning coal and the resulting $255 million in health-care savings that New Mexico residents would see, it makes perfect economic sense to simply bring San Juan up to the standards that other plants across the country already meet.

Ultimately, though, it makes even more sense to weigh any of these costs against the idea of beginning now to transition away from coal to clean and renewable energy sources.

Wind and solar are abundant in New Mexico and could provide significant job opportunities. Clean energy does not drain scarce water supplies like burning coal does, it has no cost implications for public health, and it avoids the millions needed to retrofit an old coal plant.

PNM’s continued reliance on coal isn’t saving us money — just the opposite. The company has raised rates 25 percent in the past three years and is proposing to raise rates another 20 percent over the next two. These rate increases aren’t from renewable energy – PNM’s most recent quarterly report shows zero in capital expenditures for clean energy for the next four years. The utility keeps raising rates to cover the increasing costs of burning coal and running an aging coal plant. If it really put a priority on costs, PNM should be doing so much more to embrace energy efficiency programs that are industry-proven to save ratepayers money.

With energy rates going up because of coal, with health costs high because of coal, and with old coal plants like San Juan Generating Station requiring major expenditures to better protect health, isn’t it time now to generate more of our electricity from a clean source to begin with?

For so many kids and adults who have been breathing coal-plant pollution for generations – and for so many New Mexicans who’ve been paying for the increasing costs of coal – the answer to that question will mean a world of difference.

David Van Winkle is a member of the Rio Grande Chapter of Sierra Club.

Adella Begaye has 20 years of experience as a registered nurse working on the Navajo Nation.