Desert Rock on hold


The proposed Desert Rock power plant on the Navajo Nation near Farmington, N.M., will need to find a new source of cash after the U.S. Department of Energy denied a $450 million stimulus funding bid for carbon-capture controls last week. The funding would have covered about 43 percent of the cost of those controls.

The joint project between the Navajo Nation and Sithe Global has been long contested: supported by Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley because of the job and revenue flow it will bring, opposed by groups like Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment due to air pollution and other environmental concerns in a region already rife with coal emissions. Desert Rock would be the third coal-powered plant in the Four Corners area.

In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pulled the air quality permit it granted the project last summer, pushing developers to pursue the carbon capture model, a more rigorous, but much more expensive, method to control air pollution. At the time, the New Mexico Independent reported that Shirley was disgruntled by the EPA’s decision, calling it “further proof that the U.S. government isn’t ‘honest and truthful in its dealings with Native America.’ ”

A firm supporter of Desert Rock, Shirley has been making waves lately in the debate about the environment versus jobs (see my November blog). Yet Navajo Nation attorney Doug MacCourt said the funding bid was denied because of paperwork problems, and shouldn’t be taken as an indication of the DOE’s opposition to the project, reported the Farmington Daily Times.

Opponents hope funding constraints will cause developers to rethink the Desert Rock project, perhaps even kill it completely. But project officials are continuing to look at their options, reported the Farmington Daily Times, considering an appeal to the DOE since it seems unlikely better alternatives lie in the offing. If completed, the 1,500 megawatt plant would provide 17 percent of the new energy that will be required in the region by 2015, states the Desert Rock Energy Project Web site.

For more information, read Laura Paskus’s essay: “It’s Time to Abandon Desert Rock.”