A giant plume into the air

  • Mohave Generating Station

    Diane Sylvain

Note: in the print edition of this issue, this article appears as a sidebar to a back-page opinion piece, "We can have electricity, jobs and clean air."

Hard by the Colorado River at Laughlin, Nev., Southern California Edison's controversial Mohave power plant began generating electricity in 1971. Its 500-foot stack throws a giant plume into the desert air as it puts out as much energy as Hoover Dam, lighting up more than a million homes and businesses in Nevada, Southern California and Arizona (HCN, 3/2/98).

Southern California Edison is the coal-fired power plant's principal operator and the nation's second largest electric utility based upon its number of customers, 4.2 million, and its assets of some $18 billion. Mohave's other owners include the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, 20 percent, Nevada Power, 14 percent, and the federal Salt River Project, 10 percent.

The generating station burns 6 million tons of coal a year, which arrives in a 273-mile pipeline carrying 50 percent water and 50 percent coal. The coal is strip-mined from Peabody Coal Company's Black Mesa mine in Arizona.

For the right to mine coal on Navajo land, Peabody pays annual royalties of $16.3 million to the Navajos; the company pays $3.2 million to the Hopis for the right to tap their aquifer for 1 billion gallons of water. In addition, the Black Mesa mine employs 350 people with an average wage and benefit package of $55,000 per year.

Mohave burns coal unencumbered by modern pollution controls, except for an electrostatic precipitator to remove large particulates. Now that the Navajo station at Page, Ariz., is on the road to achieving 90 percent control of sulfur dioxide, Mohave remains the largest single source of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions in the Southwest and a major contributor to degraded visibility in the Grand Canyon, just 50 miles away.

This, though virtually all other Southwestern utilities and copper-smelting companies have installed scrubbers and dramatically reduced SO2 emissions. In addition, the Mohave plant each year emits 44,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, 18 million tons of global-warming carbon dioxide and 10,000 tons of small particulates that can affect breathing.

Southern California Edison can be reached at 626/302-2255.

James Bishop Jr. writes in Sedona, Arizona.

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