Clean-up in store for N.M. power plant

One of the region’s biggest polluters has been put on the path to clean-up. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency released a clean air plan that will reduce haze and smog by more than 80 percent at the San Juan Generating Station. The notorious polluter is located just west of Farmington and is the second largest coal-fired power plant in New Mexico.

The Obama Administration plan was spurred by the Clean Air Act, which requires major polluters to curb their emissions to reduce haze in national parks and wilderness areas.  Modeling prepared by Public Service Co. of New Mexico (PNM), the plant’s operator, shows the San Juan Generating Station contributes to 80 percent of all visibility degradation in Mesa Verde National Park and 70 percent in the San Pedro Parks Wilderness. The EPA’s plan would improve visibility and air quality dramatically all over the region.

“The EPA’s clean air plan promises enormous benefits, but at the same time it exposes the true cost of burning coal at the San Juan Generating Station,” said Jeremy Nichols, of WildEarth Guardians. “We hope the EPA’s plan, in forcing air pollution reductions, helps to spur a move away from coal and toward developing New Mexico’s abundant wind and solar.”  

Further, the EPA suggests that for every dollar invested in cleaning up the San Juan Generating Station, the region could reap $5 in health and environmental benefits.

“The benefits of clean air far outweigh the costs,” said Mike Eisenfeld, of the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “The EPA’s plan rightly puts public health and the environment first because this is where we stand to gain most economically as a region.”

However, those facts have not stopped PNM from claiming that the retrofits would be an undo financial burden. The upgrades would come at a cost of $1 billion, according to the utility, and that cost would be passed onto customers.

“Above everything else, we are concerned about the impact this could have on customer bills,” said Pat Vincent-Collawn, PNM president and CEO. “We believe we already have the technology in place to meet the haze reduction requirements of the federal Clean Air Act and can do so at a far lower cost.”

The mandate for the San Juan Generating Station comes on the heels of another EPA proposal to tighten limits at the Four Corners Power Plant, the largest source of nitrogen oxides in the nation.


Durango ‘Dark Skies’ effort complete

The darkness is falling over Durango. Local skies are now nearly “Dark Sky” compliant after the La Plata Electric Association and City of Durango’s recent change-out of all overhead street light to compliant fixtures. Originally scheduled as a seven-year project, LPEA crews completed the effort in five.

The program was designed to minimize light pollution and started when the Durango City Council adopted the Outdoor Lighting Ordinance in 2003. LPEA had been implementing “Dark Sky” options on its own since 2000.

A total of approximately 765 City of Durango streetlights were converted to shielded fixtures in multiple phases. Each phase involved replacement of roughly 100-150 streetlights in a designated area, plus conversions in random locations where streetlights were in need of repair. Dark Sky fixtures focus light downward, toward the ground, keeping it from escaping and polluting the surrounding environment.

LPEA covered the labor costs to change out the existing streetlights – approximately $18,000 each year – and the City budgeted $20,000 annually for materials. In the end, the entire conversion cost less than $190,000, spread out over five years.

“It ended up as a win-win all around,” said Steve Gregg, LPEA manager of operations. “We were able to save the City as well as our members money with the cost reduction on the lights and the accelerated installation schedule.”

LPEA’s commitment to install Dark Sky fixtures extends beyond the City of Durango’s streetlight investment, and includes yard lights and lighting on ranches, private parking lots and businesses throughout its service territory.            

“I think folks now realize that the streets aren’t darkened,”

Gregg said. “When you drive through Durango and see the college lit all around the rim, you’re looking at Dark Sky lighting. On the ground it hasn’t changed. You can see and you’re still safe. The lights just aren’t streaming into the sky.”


Great Old Broads targeted in Utah

Durango’s Great Old Broads for Wilderness have gone into the crosshairs in Southeast Utah. Members of the locally based conservation group were recently targeted by a series of “Wanted” posters in the canyon country near Blanding and Bluff.  

The poster reads “Wanted Dead or Alive” and goes on to claim that Great Old Broads are not allowed in Utah’s San Juan County by order of the Bureau of Land Management and the sheriff’s office. Both agencies deny any involvement in the poster’s appearance.

The posters were discovered in mid-December by a group that included Rose Chilcoat, of Great Old Broads, BLM staff, archaeologists, county employees and local citizens. The group was on a fact-finding trip to Recapture Wash near Blanding when it found numerous posters affixed to area road signs.

The Broads have been actively monitoring Recapture Wash in recent years for off-highway vehicle abuse. In that time, several off-roaders have been charged with felony counts of destruction of federal property and resources. In addition, the Broads’ efforts encouraged the BLM to close an illegally built ATV trail in Recapture Canyon in 2007. The closure is temporary and the BLM is currently deciding whether or not to grant San Juan County a right-of-way to the trail.

“Our interest in the health of Recapture Wash has apparently caused some San Juan County residents to harbor unkind feelings toward us,” said Anne Benson, Great Old Broads communications coordinator. “While we do not take this threat lightly, such juvenile, anonymous actions will not deter us from our efforts to advocate for the land in San Juan County.”

– Will Sands




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March 17, 2022
Critical condition

Lake Powell drops below threshold for the first time despite attempts to avoid it

March 17, 2022
Uphill climb

Purgatory Resort set for expansion but still faces hurdles

March 10, 2022
Mind, body & soul (... and not so much El Rancho)

New health care studio takes integrated approach to healing