On December 20, 2022, the City of Farmington announced that they withdrew from the carbon capture/sequestration (CCS) project at San Juan Generating Station (SJGS) following unsuccessful legal challenges to keep SJGS in operation. This was followed the next day (December 21, 2022) by Enchant Energy (Enchant) issuing a press release abandoning the CCS project at SJGS but claiming that they have several CCS projects in the works in the region that are confidential.
SJGS and San Juan Mine are now permanently closed and will be decommissioned/demolished/remediated in early 2023. Since the project’s conception in 2019 by the City of Farmington and Enchant, San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA) remained skeptical that the proposed world’s largest CCS retrofit of a coal plant project would come to fruition and that it was disingenuous to believe that Enchant (or its predecessor Acme Equities) would be able to acquire, permit, construct and operate the $1.6 billion project at the 50-year old SJGS. The City of Farmington lost over $3 million paying legal bills for Enchant, with recovery contingent on project success. The three hedge funders who pitched the Enchant project are long gone, unsuccessful in attracting large investors or even acquiring rights to SJGS. Despite receiving two Federal grants for the project for design and carbon sequestration, Enchant failed to deliver and proved to be an unreliable partner for the City of Farmington. The City of Farmington claims that the Energy Transition Act (ETA) and Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) forced withdrawal from the project are not the primary reason that the project failed. Eight of nine utility owners at SJGS recognized the faltering economics of coal and decided to no longer invest in SJGS, which closed in September 2022. The ninth owner of SJGS, the City of Farmington, owned 5% or 43 MW at SJGS and would have had to acquire the additional 95% of SJGS to keep it running post-2022. The City of Farmington never adequately recognized that Enchant faltered through the entire four-year process, was incapable of taking over ownership of SJGS, and refused to publicly audit Enchant’s progress or lack thereof. So, it comes as no surprise that the project failed.
After 4 years of the Enchant proposal, the project joins a long list of CCS coal plant failures (including Petra Nova, FutureGen, and Kemper) and calls into question the entire concept of Federal funding for retrofitting old coal plants and perpetuating reliance on fossil fuels when more reliable, sustainable and economic options exist. SJCA insisted on replacement resources in San Juan County for SJGS abandonment as part of New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) PNM abandonment proceedings and the ETA. These replacement resources include the San Juan Solar/solar storage project will initiate construction in 2023 and will provide property taxes, funds for Central Consolidated School District, and jobs for facility construction. SJCA’s advocacy for just and equitable transition is now at the forefront for the Four Corners Region with clarity that CCS at coal-fired power plants is a losing proposition.
SJGS was the second largest coal-fired power plant in New Mexico, which at its peak, annually generated approximately 13 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution, from 1973-2017. A study published by Los Alamos National Laboratory and Department of Energy in May 2014 referred to the San Juan Generating Station (as well as the Four Corners Power Plant) as the largest point source of pollution in the United States. Permanently removing this massive source of climate change-inducing pollution is a critical step for the protection of the Four Corners Region that SJCA advocates for.