The choice between continued coal power or equitable transition at San Juan Generating Station
There is nothing enchanting about Enchant Energy’s proposal to continue burning dirty coal and emitting pollutants in the Four Corners long into the future. Enchant proposes to keep burning coal until it makes progress, if ever, on its speculative plan to retrofit a carbon capture and storage facility onto San Juan Generating Station and maybe eventually reduce some of the carbon emissions.
Our goal at San Juan Citizens Alliance is to aid a just and equitable transition away from coal and towards renewable energy that contributes to healthy, resilient communities in the Four Corners region. Enchant Energy’s proposal does the opposite.
What’s the issue?
- Continued Emissions: Keeping the plant open means continuing a legacy of contamination. After decades of pollution and adverse health impacts levied onto local communities and workers, the shuttering of San Juan would finally mean cleaner, healthier air for our communities.
- False Hope for the Community: The proposal by Enchant disingenuously peddles unproven technology and sells the deceitful promise of a resuscitated coal economy in the Four Corners. Northwest New Mexico is missing out on the chance to participate in energy transition because communities have been blinded by false hope of jobs and economic boon being promised by Enchant. Instead of being strung along by empty promises from Enchant, our community and its workers deserve the truth. And the truth is that Enchant Energy still lacks financing for its project, lacks power purchase agreements, lacks a buyer for the CO2 it plans to produce, lacks any guarantee of transmission or water rights, and has yet to deliver any sort of concrete plan that involves a realistic timeline.
- Unrealistic: A project of this scale has never been completed. There are only two other coal plants retrofitted with carbon capture technology in the world (one already shut down as uneconomic), and San Juan Generating Station is many times larger than either of the two retrofitted plants.
Enchant Energy’s proposal includes eventual carbon capture and sequestration, also known as CCS, but what is CCS?
It is a set of technologies that aims to reduce CO2 emissions from new and existing coal- and gas-fired power plants and large industrial sources by:
- Capturing CO2 emissions from power plants or industrial processes
- Transporting the captured and compressed CO2 (usually in pipelines)
- Underground injection and geologic sequestration (also referred to as storage) of the CO2 into deep underground rock formations, known as pore space.
While CCS may sound like a good idea, there are a lot of disadvantages to this approach to carbon neutrality. First off, it does not capture all of the carbon emissions. Even if CCS works perfectly as designed to capture 90% of emissions, that still means millions of tons of CO2 emitted from San Juan. But usually these projects likely only capture about 55% of emissions. Additionally, CCS is extremely expensive and long-term storage is uncertain and unproven. So, why create all of these unnecessary impacts from CCS when better alternatives to coal are out there?
CCS can make sense in some situations where there is no imminent closure of an operation and there is a high amount of emissions at the source. An excellent local candidate could be adding a CCS operation to the Bloomfield gas processing plants without increasing operations. However, CCS does not make sense when it is used as a rationale to prolong the life of an outdated energy source and facility. Adding CCS to a coal plant that is falling apart in order to continue polluting only distracts from and delays a just transition to renewable energy
Despite all of these facts, Enchant Energy is working overtime to convince our community and our legislators that their project is a done deal. In reality, Enchant Energy is facing numerous hurdles to begin their project. Some of which are:
- No Ownership: The current owners of San Juan Generating Station have not approved any transfer of the plant’s ownership to Enchant. Last time ownership was renegotiated, it was a multi-year process.
- No Customers: Utilities all over the nation and region are committing to divesting from coal. California, one of the largest markets in the West, left San Juan Generating Station years ago for just this reason. Enchant Energy has no customers for the electricity it produces, and it’s unlikely that it will be able to find buyers for its power. Enchant’s only customer is themselves for the parasitic load (almost 30%) needed to run the equipment to capture CO2 at the plant.
- No Buyers: Enchant still has yet to find committed buyer for the CO2 they produce. There are countless sources for CO2 that are not speculative and will likely be lower cost, leaving Enchant with a product they won’t be able to sell.
- No Investors: Enchant lacks the financing for their scheme. The project will cost billions of dollars and hinges on the successful reception of federal 45Q tax credits, which only are awarded post-production. That means Enchant will have to ask investors to dole out billions of dollars to fund a project that is still extremely speculative. However they have been unsuccessful at finding any inventors to back their project, and are now trying to gain funding though grants from the federal government.
- No Transmission: Enchant doesn’t own the transmission capacity necessary to sell the power. Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) owns the transmission lines associated with San Juan Generating Station and has hinted that they plan on retaining ownership.
- No Permits: The feasibility study is still underway and Enchant has yet to enter the vast permitting process that will be required for this massive project. They lack all the environmental permits necessary to run their proposed operation, many of which take years to obtain.
- No Project Design: Project design remains in unproven, with the feasibility study still incomplete months after its original deadline. The original intent was to pipeline CO2 derived from San Juan Generating Station to the Permian Basin for enhanced oil recovery but Enchant has now shifted to consideration of carbon storage. The project will effectively dig up coal (carbon), burn the coal to create CO2 and then attempt to capture the CO2 in order to rebury it in the ground.
- No Water Rights: Enchant does not own any of the water rights needed to operate the coal power plant and does not have any of the funding or legal backing to obtain them.
- No Pore Space: In order to sequester carbon, pore space below ground is needed to inject the carbon into. Enchant does not own any pore space for its speculative operation and is skirting responsibility by asking New Mexico to take on to take on permeant liability for the sequestration.
- No Public Participation: Unlike most major projects that affect our community’s economy, health, and environment, there has been no public input or participation. Public participation is essential to make well informed choices that affect not only our generation but those to come.
What’s our vision for the future? A more diversified economy, not heavily dependent on just one industry, will ensure that future transitions will not devastate our communities or economy. As the details for transition play out in the Four Corners, we insist on:
- Renewable energy sited in the community as maximum replacement generation to help replace the tax base, jobs and local economy in a region that has supported PNM for decades
- Funding to provide training and benefits for plant workers and miners who must transition into other sectors of the workforce
- Full reclamation of the site after its closure. In a culture of abandonment, we don’t want to see any more dilapidated industrial complexes with a fence built around them to qualify as ‘reclaimed.’
- Transparency in the transition process. The communities, tribes, towns and residents affected by the San Juan Generating Station closure have a right to know what is happening and why.
New Mexico deserves better than having its hopes drawn out or years more with a speculative project that only further moves us away from the necessary energy transition. Instead, we should focus on an equitable transition to renewable energy that prioritizes our community first.
What’s Enchant Energy’s vision for the future? More coal power and pollution continue to lose money and endanger the health and wellness of our community and environment.
What can YOU do?
There is nothing enchanting about Enchant Energy’s proposal to continue burning dirty coal and emitting pollutants in the Four Corners. Our community deserves the opportunity to voice our opinion on actions affecting our shared public lands, air, waters, and health. Yet, there has been no public participation or input on this proposed project. We can change this.
Take Action here and urge the Bureau of Land Management in Farmington to 1) hold community sessions for public input and 2) comply with the National Environmental Policy Act by starting a comprehensive multi-agency Environmental Impact Statement to address the many interconnected parts of the project.
Want to do more?