San Juan Generating station receives major upgrades

 The air is continuing to clear over the Four Corners. The San Juan Generating Station completed $330 million in environmental upgrades to what was once one of the dirtiest power plants in the nation. The improvement marks the most significant in the coal fired power plant’s history and will reduce emissions by about 14,000 tons annually.

The 1,800-megawatt plant is located near Farmington and owned by the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM).

“The completion of the upgrade is good news for air quality in the Four Corners region and good news for PNM customers, who will have continued access to this affordable, reliable source of power for years to come,” said Pat Vincent-Collawn, PNM president and CEO. “Even as we look to expand our investment in renewable energy, San Juan remains a vital source of power for serving customers.”

New technologies at the plant have led to an 80 percent drop in mercury emissions; a 20 percent drop in sulfur dioxide emissions; a 30 percent drop in nitrogen oxide emissions; and a significant reduction in particulate matter.

The upgrades were the result of a lawsuit brought by the Grand Canyon Trust and Sierra Club in 2002 to enforce federal clean air standards. In 2004, PNM admitted in federal court to more than 42,000 clean air violations (that’s right, 42,000) at the plant, and committed to a pollution reduction plan. That plan was entered as a court order, and PNM’s new pollution controls at San Juan were installed to meet those requirements. In addition, the company has been accruing the funds in escrow since the settlement was signed and has now paid the state $6.9 million for those emissions.

“As a citizen of San Juan County with young grandchildren here, I am appreciative of PNM following through on their commitment to be a cleaner energy partner,” said Gordon Glass, a Farmington resident and Sierra Club member.

While the Grand Canyon Trust and Sierra Club welcomed the upgrade, the conservation groups warned that gains made by lowering pollution levels at San Juan could be overrun by new polluters – particularly the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant and regional expansion of oil and gas development. The groups also agreed that the aging Four Corners plant – another notorious polluter – needs to upgrade its pollution controls.

“The Trust is pleased about PNM’s installation of better pollution controls at the San Juan Power Plant,” said Roger Clark, director of the Air and Energy Program at the Grand Canyon Trust. “This is an important milestone in an ongoing effort by residents to clean up their air, keep mercury out of their rivers and streams, protect their health and restore the region’s vistas.”

The Four Corners region suffers from air pollution similar to much larger urban areas. The main sources are energy development and nearby coal fired power plants. Ozone pollution in the region approaches the federal threshold for remediation and is of particular concern.

“This is a good day for people with lungs,” said Rob Smith, Southwest representative for the Sierra Club. “But it points out the problem with dirty fuels like coal and the need for cleaner energy like wind and solar.”

Now that the upgrades are complete and the plant has significantly better environmental performance, PNM does not expect excess emissions in the future or any penalties associated with these emissions, Vincent-Collawn said.

Global warming tied to flower die-off

It may seem counterintuitive, but global warming appears to be resulting in greater frost damage to wildlflowers in the Rocky Mountains. A scientist at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) recently landed a $449,000 grant to continue his study the phenomenon.

David Inouye, a University of Maryland professor of conservation biology, has been studying wildflowers at the lab, located in Gothic near Crested Butte, for 36 years. Inouye’s work represents one of the longest, continuous-running sets of plant cycle observations in North America.  

Inouye’s research solidly suggests that warmer temperatures are resulting in greater frost damage to wildflowers. Earlier snowmelt and a fixed spring frost timeframe appear to be the problem, he said. The three types of wildflowers Inouye has studied in great detail – aspen sunflower, subalpine larkspur and aspen fleabane – have been getting the signal to begin the budding and leafing process too early, even though the last hard frost consistently hits the high-elevation lab between June 10-15. 

During the first 11 years of Inouye’s aspen sunflower study (1974 – 84), there were only two years with almost no flowers blooming in the 30 plots he monitors. In the 11 years from 1997 – 2007, the results were flipped due to nine years of significant frost damage and little flowering. A record snowfall in the winter of 2007/08 and decreased frost damage to wildflowers in 2008 should result in a banner year for seedlings in 2009. 

“These findings point out the paradox of increased frost damage in the face of global warming,” Inouye said. “For all three of these perennial species, there is a significant relationship between the date of snowmelt and the abundance of flowering.”

The flowers in the plots are counted and observed every other day for most or all of the growing season. Inouye notes that the plants are not dying, but frost damage inhibits them from flowering and reproducing, which ultimately results in a smaller quantity of the wildflowers.

“No one was thinking of climate change in the 1970s and 1980s,” Inouye said. “It was in the late 1990s that I really started seeing changes in my plots that were consistent with what was happening elsewhere in regard to global warming.” 

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Three Springs awarded LEED honors

Three Springs is once again ahead of the sustainable curve in the Four Corners. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Grandview development recently announced LEED certification for two of its buildings in the Mercado district. Awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and promotes water efficiency, energy efficiency/optimization, materials selection, indoor environmental quality, and innovation, among other things.

Patrick Vaughn is the president of GF Properties Group LLC, a business unit of the Southern Ute Growth Fund that owns the buildings. “Three Springs is dedicated to raising the bar for sustainable and socially responsible design/construction practices for high performance buildings, and we are pleased to be at the forefront with this distinctive certification,” he said.

The two mixed-use buildings represent more than 51,000 square feet, were completed in early 2008 and are located at 125 and 175 Mercado. Occupants currently include Alpine Bank, Anytime Fitness, Three Springs Information Center, GF Development Group LLC, GF Properties Group LLC, GF Private Equity Group LLC, and Red Cedar Gathering Company LLC. In addition, Digs Market Café, a restaurant/deli/bar, opened in April.

“In the future, we hope that many more Durango buildings will earn LEED certification for new construction,” said Vaughn. “Through sustainable practices, we all need to contribute to a growing green-building economy.”

– Will Sands




In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows