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November 18, 2009

Host: Ted Simons

Navajo Generating Station

  |   Video
  • The EPA may force the Navajo Generating Station to install expensive emission controls on the coal-fired power plant located in Page, Arizona. The plant has long been criticized for contributing to haze in the Grand Canyon. Central Arizona Project Board President Susan Bitter Smith explains how new emission controls could impact the price of water.
  • Susan Bitter Smith - President, Central Arizona Project
Category: Energy   |   Keywords: navajo, power,

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Ted Simons: The Navajo generating station is a coal-fired power plant located about a dozen miles east of the Grand Canyon in Page, Arizona. The plant has long been criticized as a source of pollution that causes haze at Grand Canyon national park. The environmental protection agency is considering a rule to force the plant to install new, expensive emission controls. But are the costs worth the benefits? Here to talk about that is Susan Bitter Smith, president of the central Arizona project board of directors. We invited Rob Smith of the sierra club to join us but he wasn't able to make it. Thank you for being here tonight on "horizon."

Susan Bitter Smith: I'm so glad to be here.

Ted Simons: Why is this not the best way to control emissions and haze at the Grand Canyon?

Susan Bitter Smith: Well, as you mentioned, the EPA has a proposal to look at a couple of different ways to control with visibility -- not health related but visibility emissions. Proposal range from a $40 million solution to $1 billion solution. Our issue is which is best? And quite frankly, which is the most cost effective for a return on the investment that doesn't result in building unending water rate increases.

Ted Simons: what they're proposing are the scrubbers that are expensive but apparently according to the EPA effective and needed for that plant. Why are they wrong?

Susan Bitter Smith: They’re wrong because there are other technologies that are at the $40 million increment than the $1 billion increment, that will make improvements to the visibility issue. There has already been $40 million dollars invested to eliminate the haze components. That component is not done yet. It won't be done until 2011. We have time yet to see whether we do have a problem. The differential between the two different technologies and what the naked eye will see in visibility is minimal. In fact, it's not even clear there's a difference. So for that cost differential, it's not clear it makes sense to have it done.

Ted Simons: The law from what the critics will say is that the law states is that no impaired visibility should be over national parks and protected lands. If that's the law, don't you do as close as you can to reach that goal?

Susan Bitter Smith: As close as you can, absolutely. Um, with a cost benefit analysis. That's our issue at the C.A.P. C.A.P. Receives 95% of its power source from Navajo generating station. In fact, Navajo was built to power the C.A.P. It was done by an act of congress to make the C.A.P. Function. If we find that to be so cost evasive and the cost goes up so much incrementally that the cost of water goes up four or five times, the dominoes that hit Pinal county and pima country are beyond belief. That's really the issue. Yes, we need to be looking at other alternative supplies. We need to be conscious of is whopping to the environment. But we need to be rationale about what will happen to water.

Ted Simons: How much could water increase? Before -- check that question. Let's go back to where why it's so important to have power associated with the central Arizona project. Power for what?

Susan Bitter Smith: When I got elected to the board, this was a question I asked. I thought we were talking about water. We spent a great deal of time talking about the power. You can't move the water from the Colorado River down to the areas where it needs to be without a significant amount of power. Water is flowing uphill, down hill and uphill again. The power and water nexus is inescapable.

Ted Simons: Some people are thinking if the emission control system goes through, water prices could as much as quadruple. Really?

Susan Bitter Smith: Absolutely. Reason for that is if in fact the EPA gets their way and we're forced and the operating entity for the plant is forced to install $1 billion of investment, the $1 billion gets rolled off back into power rates which gets rolled off back into water rates. That's an astronomical amount of money it to absorb. On top of that, what could happen is the cost of operating that plant could become so beyond belief that the plant could shut down then we have to buy alternative sources of power from California and other places. We have no bargaining authorities that could be a huge hit to water rates in the valley.

Ted Simons: Yet I know the EPA itself, sources there, are saying that the costs are being exaggerated, the benefits are being underestimated, that it's not as dire and it could be much better than critics are saying. How do you respond?

Susan Bitter Smith: I think they're wrong. And I think folks at the EPA that are sitting and watching in D.C. Need to come to the plant and look at the implications and look at the data. C.A.P. and the operating partners for Navajo advocates for a positive environment. We understand at some point we need to look at alternative supplies but that can't be done overnight. In fact, there's lots of scientific data, data we're very confident in, that says that the solution the EPA is advocating to deal with visibility emissions doesn't really provide a return on that investment. There's an alternative solution at the $40 million price tag, the $1 billion price tag.

Ted Simons: The $40 million price tag is the SRP alternative. More efficient burners?

Susan Bitter Smith: Correct.

Ted Simons: How does that work? What's it mean?

Susan Bitter Smith: It means that it's on top of the existing burners that have already been installed under the current retrofit program which has already been ordered by the EPA and SRP is putting in place. We have a first level of incremental scrub that's have been put in place that'll be up and operational by 2011. Then on top of that, SRP is suggesting there could be some additional opportunities to erase visibility problems but the cost benefit between the most expensive version, the Cadillac version versus the Ford version are incrementally not significant to the naked eye.

Ted Simons: Is there a lower model of the Cadillac version? Can you use the scrubbers and ammonia and what the EPA wants to do, can you get a compact model of that?

Susan Bitter Smith: I think that's what SRP's plan operators are proposing. That's the compact model that they're advocating as the alternative, $40 million solution rather than the $1 billion solution. That's what we're advocating the EPA lock look at. There are other issues of the jobs in the Navajo and the Hopi nations. They're dependent upon the plan plant for the jobs and the economic issues that would result if in fact water becomes less available and much more expensive.

Ted Simons: Will the generating plant not though vulnerable to those kinds of price increases and outside effects should climate change legislation go through and cap and trade go through? Isn't that coming down the pike any way?

Susan Bitter Smith: Absolutely. This issue is a much bigger stab at a broader issue. C.A.P. And SRP as a plant operator clearly understand that in the future we need to continue to look for alternative supplies. The future of the coal-generated station may not be for the next 100 years. But here's the issue. Are there are no alternative supplies now? Nuclear may be an opportunity there maybe other opportunities. None of those are in existence today and can't rev up in an instant. There are 50 or 20 or 25 years of leap time necessary to put other kinds of sources in place that could meet the demands of the C.A.P..

Ted Simons: Environmental groups have offered the idea of combining Colorado River water with solar panels, to the point of actually covering canals and/or the river, parts of the river with solar panels to get that renewable energy source going. Realistic?

Susan Bitter Smith: No. And the reason it isn't is obviously is we're off-peak pumpers. We pump at night. Solar package, unless you can control and contain that in the high volume that is used, there's simply not enough power that could be contained. Solar power requires a lot of water. Why would we use water we're trying to move for consumption in urban areas, using that water to create a power source?

Ted Simons: EPA should go ahead and approve this? Are you going to go to court?

Susan Bitter Smith: It's highly unlikely. C.A.P. Isn't the plan operators. We as the -- the C.A.P. Board think this is the most serious crisis since the inception of C.A.P. We'll have to view it as that.

Ted Simons: It seems underlying this is the idea that if it means water is more expensive, that may not necessarily be such a bad thing because water is a precious resource here in the southwest especially and there are those that think water right now is too cheap that because the price is what it is, people aren't compelled to conserve. How do you respond?

Susan Bitter Smith: Well, C.A.P. and other water providers spent a lot of time and energy talking about conserving water. We agree with the environmentalists on conserving water and that being an important idea. That being said, water at a three or four or five time incremental price increase could make the ability for us to survive in this valley almost impossible. That hit would be very hard to absorb. We know that water rates will rise on their own as we speak from ongoing things that are happening as the cost of power becomes a little bit more expensive over time, but to make that automatic quantum leap jump to that price increase overnight would certainly be injure impossible for the valley already struggling to survive.

Ted Simons: Could so when, again, we hear that you could have the economy, the reservation up there, it could collapse because of lost jobs, when you're saying that the plant could close, literally close because of something like this, when you're saying the results aren't worth the price, and the other side says, this is just an exaggeration, let's see how it works. Let's see what happens here and adjust from there, again, what do you say?

Susan Bitter Smith: We can't run that risk. If the plant shuts down or we have water rates go incrementally up overnight, the valley could collapse. We're the primary water source. We believe the better opportunity here is to look at the alternative that SRP proposed. Let's evaluate that and see how that works and if there is something beyond that that makes some sense, we have incremental time to continue to work in visibility issues. We again are environmentalists in our own right as well and want to make sure the plant operates efficiently and appropriately but not at the cost of eliminating the water source.

Ted Simons: What kind of time table are we looking at by a decision from the EPA?

Susan Bitter Smith: EPA is moving rapidly we anticipate if they're going to do public hearings, we which hope, sometime in January. It's moving on a rapid pace.

Ted Simons: Susan, thank you for joining us.

Susan Bitter Smith: Thank you for letting me be here.

Transportation for America

  |   Video
  • T4America is leading a campaign to re-shape federal transportation policy, linking land use, housing and transportation more closely to create more livable communities. Lea Shuster, Field Director for Transportation For America, discusses her group’s goals and how federal transportation policy impacts transportation in Arizona.
  • Lea Shuster - Field Director for Transportation For America
Category: Business/Economy

View Transcript
Ted Simons: good evening and welcome to "horizon" I'm Ted Simons in a press conference today, Maricopa county attorney Andrew Thomas announced the Scottsdale Art Factory is the first business accused of violating the state employer sanctions law that law punishes businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants. The owner of the Scottsdale art factory denies the allegations and says her company complies with state law by using the federal e-verify system to check the status of its employees. In a ceremony today in downtown phoenix, Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of the "NBC nightly news" received the Walter Cronkite award for excellence in journalism. It's the 26th such award given out annually by ASU's Cronkite School of journalism and mass communication. Williams is the first sitting network news anchor to receive the Cronkite award. You can watch the acceptance speech the Friday after thanksgiving right here on "horizon." As congress works on the plan to shape the future of our nation's highway and transit systems, Arizona is trying to determine its own future transportation needs. “Building a quality Arizona” is a planning process. Yesterday, the last of three open houses was held in mesa. It was an opportunity for the public to see how the planning process is taking shape along with a chance for folks to share their opinions about Arizona’s transportation needs. The process will provide the foundation for long-range transportation planning decisions. Here now with more about the future of transportation is Mike Normand, director of community and grant services for the Arizona department of transportation. And Lea Schuster, national field director for transportation for America, an organization that's asking congress for major reforms as it reauthorizes a national transportation funding bill. Good you have to both on "horizon".

Both: thank you.

Ted Simons: Lea, let's start with you. Transportation for America. What are we talking about here?

Lea Schuster: Transportation of America is a national campaign made up of over 350 partners in states and regions across the country, over 25,000 individuals. It's a very diverse group including seniors, businesses, developers and environmentalists and public health advocates and Doctors. We've all come together to look at the federal transportation bill which is up for reauthorization this year and asking for major reform so that the new bill which is one of the largest Domestic spending bills we've got in this country is actually focused on building a transportation system for the 21st century.

Ted Simons: And I know looking through your material there from the organization, the ideas that link land use and housing and transportation more closely. I noticed something saying leading to more livable communities. Define a moral livable community?

Lea Schuster: A livable community is one where transportation is linked with housing and where folks in the community have choices about getting where they need to go whether it's by walking, using a car, using different transit systems. And it's also about how the community is built and we think the transportation is just not about getting people from one place to another. It's about getting people where they need to go, when they need to get there but it's also about economic development. And creating communities where people are account for each other a regular basis. It's making the links in a much deeper and richer way.

Ted Simons: How do the ideas unfold into building a quality Arizona?

Mike Normand: One of the things we've heard over the last two years as we held the community meetings around the state from Arizonians is they want to see more focused growth and a balanced transportation system. So they want more choices in terms of transit, walkable communities, better roads, less congestion which leads to an improved quality of life in their communities.

Ted Simons: Do some of the things, though, you heard Lea talking about, do they transform all that well to Arizona? We are the wide open spaces here, you know, and everyone is kind of a cowboy in their own pickup truck down here in Arizona. Can those ideas work here?

Mike Normand: I think they can but in different ways. Arizona is a very large and diverse state with different needs between large urban areas like phoenix and Tucson, smaller communities and then rural areas. So, again, I think the key is balance and choice in terms of how people get access health care, schools, jobs and move around in their communities.

Ted Simons: What exactly is Congress looking at as far as this new bill is concerned?

Lea Schuster: Well, we're at the end of what is called a six-year authorization bill. The way the congress handles transportation funding is every six years, they write a new bill. This is the first bill they're writing in the 21st century. It's a really important opportunity because for the first time in about 50 years, we've actually completed a project that started in the 1950's which was the building of the interstate system. President Eisenhower did this as part of a defense for security measure. What congress is looking at now is how do we in the 21st century dealing with 21st century problems like an aging and diversifying population, like a globalized economy, like energy independence issues and climate change issues, how do we build this 21st century transportation system in a way to address those needs? What our campaign is calling for is actually having congress for the first time lay out in statute what those transportation goals are. Few people know this but our transportation bill actually doesn't have clear, national goals and we think if we're investing between 300 billion and 500 billion dollars of taxpayer money, we need to be very clear in these economic times what that money's going to be used for.

Ted Simons: That clarity needed for Arizona as well?

Mike Normand: I think so. I think one of the things as we -- a lot of things are changing. These are very interesting times in transportation because, um, some of the things that influence how we design and use our transportation system are changing right now. The economic situation issues around energy and energy security, climate issues or environmental issues and demographic issues such as an aging population and a very diverse population, all of these things really influence how we design and use our transportation system. So as these influences shape the transportation bill at the federal level, it's important for Arizona to understand those influences and strategically plan our transportation system so that we can take advantage of some of the opportunities that the federal bill will provide.

Ted Simons: Some of the more specific ideas here, land use issues. How do they play into transportation planning?

Lea Schuster: I think everyone understands that whether you're driving a car, taking a bus or using your feet, you're moving but you're going from one place to another. So transportation is an incentive for development. It can incent different types of development and if you're -- if you have a system that's built only for autos, you're about going to get a certain type of development that then more and more requires people to use an auto for every trip. If you live in one place and drive to get groceries to another and take another trip to pick up your kids and another to do another errand. That's the choice for some people. There's an increasing number of folks our community -- this is true in Arizona as much as in other parts of the country -- that would like to spend less time in the car and more time with their families. More time walking and less time driving. We want to give people choices in their communities to make that decision.

Ted Simons: We hear that idea and as certainly the way a lot of people look at transportation and, yes yet, in Arizona, it seems like if you build a freeway out into the desert, pretty soon here come the rooftops. People want to live out there. These are interesting ideas, are they viable? Is this something that the population really wants?

Mike Normand: I think so. I think, again, a lot of things are changing. I think as the demographics change and our population ages, we might not be as inclined to want the big house out in the suburbs as we're perhaps downsizing and looking for something that's lower maintenance, closer to where we work, maybe closer to entertainment, cultural amenities, things like that, and, again, I think that the economic situation we have now and the housing situation, foreclosures and that sort of thing, we're finding that in terms of your transportation costs that families that do live out in the outlying suburban areas spend much more of their income on transportation as opposed to families that may live in areas that have access to public transportation for example.

Ted Simons: We did see that with the rising oil prices, for example. Some of the houses out there weren't quite as valuable or wanted as they were. Talk about planning and economic transportation. Tell me how that works together.

Lea Schuster: We understand transportation, regardless of what mode it is, provides certain incentives. What we're seeing -- our coalition has a very engaged group of developers involved who are understanding the market trends and are moving towards more walkable communities and in what is called transit oriented development which means that you may have some retail shopping below and having living accommodations, residential, above. This is not for everybody but it is an increasing segment of the market. Seniors, empty nesters, singles, families without children and some families with children as developers want to increase this kind of housing and this kind retail, we need to be able to provide the transportation options to make this viable.

Ted Simons: Transportation options? Does that include increased road capacity?

Lea Schuster: I think in some cases, road capacity is an option, but we need to be able to give a range of options and allow the local jurisdictions to plan, number one, how to maintain and repair the roads they have and make sure everyone whether they drive or not drive has an option and then if the mobility is still an issue, perhaps I would expand on where our money should go.

Ted Simons: It's almost like an either or here in Arizona. Phoenix to Tucson. Increase the freeway or something like a rail system going. Talk about those options?

Mike Normand: Yeah, I think in some cases, additional road capacity is needed. I think the rail option is something that is very interesting and we're sighing lot of excitement around rail now with the new high-speed rail program that was announced earlier this year by the federal government. And Phoenix to Tucson, the rail is something we talked about in Arizona for a number of years, maybe 20 years. It's a system like that that may provide opportunities for other types of land use and development patterns, again, providing different options for housing, for providing more affordable housing and access to transportation systems that connects our two largest cities.

Ted Simons: Can we as Arizonans -- can the country right now afford this kind of transportation idea?

Mike Normand: Well, I -- that's a good question. Um, and I think as we mentioned, the federal reauthorization will invest between $300-$500 billion in transportation. I guess the question is how do you divide that up? And I think what we're looking at and what transportation for America is suggesting is that we have a balanced transportation system and we start investing in modes that over the last, 40 years have not seen a lot of investment. But modes that will diversify our system and provide other opportunities for development around the state and around the country.

Lea Schuster: I don't think we can not afford – I don't think we can afford not to do this. The reason is gas prices are going to -- as the economy grows is going to grow. We have lost our energy independence and we are spending more and more money as we pay for gas and pay for steel and for cars and an increasing percentage of our auto industry, unfortunately is outside of our country, we're spending more of our economic dollars outside of the country. We need to think about how to let people have more money that they can spend besides on petroleum.

Ted Simons: We have to stop it right there, thank you, both. Great conversation.

Mike Normand: Well, thank you.