SoCal Munis May Have to Pay for Coal Pollution Control

By Published On: January 24, 2004

Air pollution violations at a faraway coal power plant in New Mexico may nudge the price of electricity higher for municipal utility customers in many Southern California cities, pending the outcome of two enforcement actions now under way. ?If we?re forced to do more, it will increase the cost to the customers,? said Steve Homer, project administrator for the Southern California Public Power Authority, which owns 42 percent of the 544 MW Unit 3 at the San Juan Power Generating Station near Farmington, New Mexico. At issue are some 13,500 alleged ?opacity exceedances? at the plant. The pollution violations are claimed in a lawsuit that the Grand Canyon Trust and the Sierra Club filed in a federal district court in Santa Fe against plant operator Public Service Company of New Mexico. A decision on the plaintiffs? motion for summary judgment is expected soon, according to Reed Zars, an attorney representing the groups. In a separate action, the New Mexico Environment Department has issued a notice of violation to the company for alleged opacity-limit violations at the plant, as well as excess emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, according to Sandra Ely, air-quality bureau chief for the agency. ?You can directly trace that to the plant,? said Zars. ?There?s a big smear all along the horizon.? Installing baghouse control technology on the plant?which filters out particles?would significantly reduce emissions, Zars said, as it has done at other coal plants in the West that have had emissions problems. Currently, the plant uses electrostatic precipitators to remove 99.7 percent of particulate emissions, according to Amy Miller, a spokesperson for the New Mexico utility. SCPPA would have to pay about $12 million toward a baghouse on Unit 3. ?If we had to pay $12 million, that would raise our cost for the energy by 20 percent that year,? Homer said. If the judge does not grant summary judgment on the alleged emissions violations, it is expected that the court will consider the merits of each of the alleged violations beginning this spring, according to those involved in the case. Meanwhile, the New Mexico Environment Department expects to resolve its own enforcement case against the utility?including potential administrative penalties?later this year.

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