Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Monday, May 6, 2013

More Solar, Less Coal Is Good for Arizona -- Guest Blog Post

When two of Arizona’s neighbors, California and Nevada, decide to abandon coal-generated electricity in favor of renewable and natural gas, the writing is on the wall: The days of the Navajo Generating Station and other coal-fired power plants are numbered.

The news that Nevada’s largest utility, NV Energy, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) are divesting themselves of the NGS coal plant hit Arizona’s utilities hard. Why? Because it means that Salt River Project (SRP) or some other utility will have to purchase LADWP’s 21 percent and NV’s 11.3 percent share in the plant to keep it open. That’s nearly one third of NGS’ ownership, up for grabs. If SRP buys LADWP and NV Energy’s share in NGS, it would own 53 percent of a 40-year-old coal-burner, and have to pay for another 30 years of fuel and maintenance costs, plus upgrades.

So why are utilities in California, Nevada, Iowa and Colorado bailing on coal while SRP is adding more? This is a fair question. Arizonans who will get stuck with the bill deserve an honest answer.

NGS has been emitting enormous amounts of pollution for nearly 40 years. Pollution upgrades alone will cost $600 million to $1 billion in addition to the approximately $580 million it will cost to buy out the departing co-owners.

Is spending $1.6 billion to support the energy status quo a smart investment? That's like putting $40,000 into a $2,000 vehicle that gets 8 miles per gallon, leaks oil and pumps out choking exhaust when there are better options. It makes no sense.

Wouldn’t Arizona be better off investing in new, clean technology like solar rather pouring oil into a smoky old clunker? SRP spends at least $500 million per year buying coal and natural gas for power plants, mostly from out of state. Rate increases for coal upgrades are far higher than rate increases for clean energy. The direct and indirect fuel and health costs of coal will increase for decades, while the price of solar and wind “fuel” is forever free.

Moving to clean energy is an enormous economic opportunity, utilizes our unique competitive advantage, creates good-paying jobs and puts Arizona in front of a booming $100-billion-year worldwide market. The solar market in the U.S. last year was worth over $11 billion.

Moving to clean energy is an enormous economic opportunity, utilizes our unique competitive advantage, creates well-paying jobs and puts Arizona ahead of a booming $100-billion-year worldwide market. The solar market in the U.S. last year was worth more than $11 billion.

It seems that everyone in the country realizes that renewable energy is our future – except Arizona.

Other states and utilities are making smarter choices. Why can’t we?

Nancy LaPlaca served as policy adviser to former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Paul Newman and three years as a public-interest intervenor.


Politically speaking, Arizona's utilities are moving (or rather, NOT moving) on or because of inertia. It is much easier to continue doing the same thing than to, for example, try to make an ocean tanker ship turn on a dime. Couple that inertia with local anxiety in the Northern Arizona communities whose residents work or have businesses supported by the Navajo Generating Station and you have an incredibly difficult political situation.

A friend remarked just a little while ago this evening that the concerns of those who will be out of work -- if NGS is shut down -- will not be allayed by promises to develop wind farms. Because those wind generated electricity facilities will not provide as many jobs as NGS.

That's a real issue but not one that can or should be used to stop the inevitable transition away from coal-fired plants.

The challenge for local leaders therefore will be to find other ways to develop the economy. And they must do so very quickly, because the environmental calamity on the horizon demands change now.


In case you need a refresher on the urgency of this issue (as if Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, increasing occurrences of wildfires and other weather catastrophes haven't yet convinced you), take time to view Bill McKibben's movie, Do the Math. The founder goes beyond just providing a doomsday scenario. There ARE solutions. We must demand those solutions be adopted.

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