Sale of Four Corners Coal-Fired Power Plant Challenged

California utility may have broken state law in extending life of coal-burning units


Suma Peesapati, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700

Earthjustice intervened in California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) proceedings on behalf of the Sierra Club to challenge actions taken by Southern California Edison (SCE) to extend the operating life of two highly polluting coal burning electrical generators on the Navajo Nation. Earthjustice seeks to ensure that investments made prior to the announcement of the sale of the power units does not violate a California greenhouse gas law, SB 1368.

SCE owns a 48 percent share of the two largest coal-fired units at the Four Corners Power Plant in northwestern New Mexico. The nearly 50-year old plant burns coal to produce electricity using outdated and ineffective pollution control technology. The Environmental Protection Agency lists the plant as the nation’s largest source of health-threatening nitrogen oxide pollution. Under California greenhouse gas regulations implementing SB 1368, SCE must divest its interest in the facilities because of the high volumes of air pollution they emit.

SB 1368 further prohibits California utilities from making new long-term commitments to generating facilities that do not meet legal emissions performance standards. SCE is proposing to sell its share of the plant to one of the other co-owners, Arizona Public Service Company (APS), by 2012 for $294 million. SCE must first gain approval for the sale from the CPUC. In November, SCE filed its application for CPUC approval of the sale.

“California-based utility companies have to get out of the coal-burning electricity business because California law recognizes that burning coal is choking the planet,” said Earthjustice attorney Suma Peesapati. “But, the sale must also be environmentally responsible and must not extend the life of the plant.”

Through its intervention, Earthjustice is asking the CPUC to closely examine whether SCE made illegal investments in the coal burning units prior to putting them on the market. SCE admits to doing general maintenance to the plant but so far denies illegally expanding or prolonging the life of the plant. SCE is also seeking CPUC permission to pass on the cost of the modifications to its customers—a proposal that also raises serious questions in light of SB 1368.

“It would be unreasonable for SCE to ask California ratepayers to cover the costs of illegally expanding a polluting coal burning power plant in New Mexico,” said Peesapati of Earthjustice.

This case is part of the ongoing campaign by Earthjustice and the Sierra Club to fight pollution from the Four Corners Power Plant and promote a clean energy future for the Navajo Nation. In collaboration with indigenous environmental justice groups and conservation groups, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club are working to achieve a just transition away from coal-fired generation to investment in renewable energy opportunities.

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