New America Media
Even as Pres. Obama is touting coal as part of a clean energy
future, one of the largest utilities in California is trying to
distance itself from the fossil fuel.
Southern California Edison (SCE), a subsidiary
of Edison International, intends to divest its 48 percent share of
Four Corners Power Plant by the end of 2016. Located west of
Farmington, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation reservation, the
power plant represents SCE’s last remaining stake in a coal-fired
In a March 1 financial disclosure to federal
regulators, the company indicated that California law prohibits it
from making long-term investments in generators that emit high
levels of greenhouse gases, which include most coal power plants.
“SCE thus does not expect to enter into any
long-term ownership arrangements for its share of Four Corners
Units 4 and 5 after the 2016 expiration of the current participant
agreements due to the investment constraints of SB 1368,” the
company said in the report.
“California law prohibits certain future
investments in plants such as Four Corners,” said SCE spokesperson
Gil Alexander. “We do not intend to be a partner at the Four
Corners plant beyond the current contract.”
Southern California Edison isn’t the only one.
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which gets 44 percent
of its electricity from coal, announced in October 2009 it would
eliminate the purchase of coal power in the next 10 years. The
trend shows utilities are increasingly seeing coal as a bad
“It’s a sign that SCE is conscious of the cost
of keeping coal in its portfolio,” said John White, executive
director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable
Technology, based in Sacramento. “There is a myth that coal is
cheap, compared to other sources of electricity, but the problem
is it doesn’t count a lot of the costs that coal imposes on
communities. Now, the bill is coming due.”
Four Corners is a 2,040-megawatt power plant
made up of five units. Arizona Public Service is the sole owner of
units one, two and three. Southern California Edison co-owns units
four and five, which generate 1,500 megawatts, with Arizona Public
Service and three other utilities.
The need to install pollution controls to
comply with federal rules, the problem of coal ash, mine safety,
and the looming threat of climate change are weighing heavily on
bottom lines and clouding the future of coal power.
“SCE has informed the plant that it does plan
to divest of its ownership share no later than 2016,” said Arizona
Public Service spokesperson Damon Gross. “As far as an owner
stepping in, it’s too early to say because there’s a lot of moving
That includes, he said, increasing efforts to
regulate greenhouse gas emissions by the federal government and
states, and a host of environmental regulations pertaining to air,
water and hazardous waste.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has
proposed air pollution controls for Four Corners power plant
costing $900 million.
In its 10K financial disclosure to the Security
and Exchange Commission, SCE said California law may prohibit it
from making costly capital investments: “SB 1368 may prohibit SCE
from making emission control expenditures at Four Corners.”
Gross said SCE’s decision to divest of its
ownership share and the proposed EPA pollution retrofits are
posing “serious challenges” for the power plant. He said Four
Corners plays a significant role in the community.
Arizona Public Service met with members of the
Navajo Nation government last week to discuss the future of the
Four Corners Power Plant. Both the Navajo coal mine and the power
plant employ 1,050 workers, of which about 75 percent are Native
The transition from traditional sources of
energy to renewable sources will shed jobs, but it also has the
potential to create the “next generation of jobs,” says Monique
Lopez, campaign associate with the Coalition for Clean Air, a
statewide advocacy and policy group.
There’s also a perception that the switch to
renewables will lead to higher energy costs, but Lopez says in the
long run, coal power will cost more.
“Moving away from those sources and moving to
renewable energy will not only benefit those communities, but
benefit those communities receiving that energy in the long run,
because of pending carbon regulations that are coming down the
pipelines which will make those types of sources more expensive
Consumers will also see savings on their
utility bills with stepped up efforts to boost energy efficiency,
and says that’s the direction utilities need to take.
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