Edison Moves to Reopen Big Desert Power Plant
The utility was forced to shut down the Mohave generating station in
Nevada because of pollution issues.
By Marc Lifsher, Times Staff Writer
March 28, 2006
Southern California Edison Co. and two Indian tribes have taken a
tentative step toward reopening the giant Mohave power plant in Nevada
that was shut down due to pollution.
Before being taken off line in January, the coal-fired plant was a
major source of electricity for Southern California.
Under a proposed agreement with Edison, the Navajo nation and the Hopi
tribe of northern Arizona would supply the 1,585-megawatt plant in
Laughlin, Nev., with water from tribal lands and coal from the Black
Mesa mine, which is owned by the tribes and operated by Peabody Energy
Corp. In return, Edison and its partners in the Mohave power plant
would make a series of payments to the tribes.
The proposal faces several major hurdles, including winning the
endorsement of the two tribal councils, Congress, the Interior
Department, Edison’s Mohave partners and the California Public
What’s more, Edison would need to install about $1 billion worth of
pollution-control equipment to satisfy a 1999 consent decree requiring
the utility to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from the plant, which
was one of the biggest sources of air pollution in the Southwest and
contributed to the haze that obscures views at Grand Canyon National
The most controversial part of the proposed deal would allow Peabody to
continue to draw water from the Navajo Aquifer, which the Indians rely
on for drinking, farming and livestock. The water would be used at the
Black Mesa mine to transport pulverized coal through a 273-mile
pipeline to the power plant.
The proposed agreement, outlined in a March 7 memo and not yet binding
on the parties, also would require the tribes, Edison and the U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation to cooperate in the development of a new water
source for the coal pipeline.
Allowing Peabody to continue using water from the aquifer could
endanger a precious resource in the parched desert region, said David
Beckman, a senior attorney in Los Angeles for the Natural Resources
Defense Council. Last week, his group issued a report that it said
contradicted government findings that Peabody’s pumping did not exceed
“Peabody has long claimed it intended to cease pumping from the
[Navajo] aquifer, but this impending deal puts the lie to that claim,”
Peabody spokeswoman Beth Sutton disputed the council’s report: “The
Navajo Aquifer remains healthy and robust.”
Edison, the tribes and Peabody all declined to comment on the proposed
agreement, which was first reported by the Gallup, N.M., Independent.
Mohave produced about 7% of Southern California’s electricity before
being mothballed New Year’s Day after Edison failed to comply with the
1999 consent decree, which settled a lawsuit brought against the
plant’s owners by a coalition of environmental groups.
Bill Hedden, executive director of the Grand Canyon Trust, which
spearheaded the lawsuit against Edison, said he was waiting to see
whether the parties in the coal and water negotiations could overcome
“a million complications” before dealing with Mohave’s air pollution
The closure of the power plant was a blow to the local tribal
economies. The plant was the only customer for coal from the Black Mesa
mine, and 600 high-paying jobs ? mostly filled by Navajos ? were
eliminated when the Mohave plant closed. In addition, the Navajo and
Hopi governments lost the millions of dollars they received each year
in royalty payments from the mine.
Edison, a unit of Rosemead-based Edison International, owns 56% of the
Mohave plant and was its operator. The remaining ownership is divided
among three partners, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and