Negative economic impact is expected

Closing of plant to affect Mohave County, Hopi and Navajo reservations

FLAGSTAFF (AP) ­ The Hopi and Navajo reservations and the Mohave County are on the verge of a major economic hit beginning Dec. 31, with what is expected to be at least the temporary closing of the Mohave Generating Station power plant in Laughlin.

Black Mesa Mine, which supplies the coal the generating station uses to make electricity, will have no reason to operate.

Peabody Energy Co., which excavates and pulverizes Black Mesa Mine's coal, mixes it with water and slurries it 273 miles to Laughlin, also will shut down. Both have exclusive contracts with Mohave.

The Hopi Tribe will experience a loss of nearly a third of its $21.5 million operating budget and huge slashes in programs affecting the elderly and young.

It also will mean the loss of more than 600 jobs ­ some directly tied to the plant ­ in Mohave County and the loss of about 500 jobs in the north-central Navajo region.

The Mohave Generating Station provides nearly 20 percent of the electricity that Southern California Edison delivers to its customers, said Gloria Quinn, an Edison spokeswoman.

The economic storm has been brewing for six years, since Southern California Edison agreed to install more than $1 billion of equipment to clean up emissions at its Mohave Generating Station by the end of this year.

It was the culmination of a lawsuit that claimed the plant violated the Clean Air Act. The anti-pollution devices the company agreed to put in take at least 1-1/2 years to install. Southern California Edison has done no work on them.

Unless the company violates the consent decree, wins an extension or works out a compromise, Mohave will close as the rest of the world rings in the new year.

After years of sending mixed messages about the future of the power plant, including filing a request with the California Public Utilities Commission last year to begin the process of shutting down Mohave, Edison now wants to keep the plant open.

In a filing with the commission last month, an Edison manager wrote that sharp price increases in natural gas and the lack of reliability in other electricity producers in southern California "has underscored the high importance and value of Mohave to fuel diversity."

In testimony this month before the commission, however, another Edison official, Harold Ray, said that there are no plans to keep the plant open in violation of the consent decree. Miners at Black Mesa also have begun receiving layoff notices effective Dec. 15.

Beth Sutton, a spokeswoman for Peabody Energy, said all of the company's employees had received the notices and "we are transitioning into at least a temporary closure of the mine at the end of December."

Even if Southern California Edison pushes to keep the plant open or to reopen after a temporary closure, another problem could force Mohave out of business.

For years, water has been pumped from the "N" aquifer, beneath the Hopi and Navajo reservations, to move coal to Mohave. But that has been criticized as causing the drying up of Hopi springs. It will cease by the end of the year, along with the lease for the Black Mesa mine.

A proposal is being examined to build a water pipeline 120 miles across the Navajo and Hopi reservations from pumps between Flagstaff and Winslow in the Coconino aquifer to the coal slurry preparation plant at Black Mesa.

But Navajo and Hopi officials have had snags in negotiations during the last month on the route of the pipeline, and intense negotiations continue about the price paid for the coal. They already have resolved lingering issues over the quality and quantity of coal.