Four Corners coal-fired units shifting to seasonal operation by 2023

The utility owners of a New Mexico fossil fuel generation facility have agreed to transition to operating one of the units only seasonal operations two years from now.

Arizona Public Service, Navajo Transitional Energy Co. (NTEC), Public Service Co. of New Mexico (PNM), Salt River Project (SRP) and Tucson Electric Power (TEP) are all owners of the Four Corners coal-fired power plant near Fruitland, N.M. The 1,540-MW facility is located within the Navajo Nation.

Moving to seasonal operations by fall 2023 could reduce annual carbon emissions by 20 to 25 percent, according to the utilities. APS will cut one generator to seasonal, while the other would run year-around, according to other news reports.

The Four Corners plant already has decreased nitrogen oxide emissions 88 percent since selective catalytic reduction equipment was placed on Units 4 and 5 in 2018.

“Four Corners has provided reliable and affordable electricity for almost 60 years, fostering economic growth and prosperity in cities and towns throughout the region,” said Jacob Tetlow, Sr. Vice President of Operations at APS. “With seasonal operations, the plant will continue to be a critical source of reliable electricity when our customers need it most and enable a responsible transition to a cleaner energy future.”

The agreement comes as PNM announced plans to transfer its share of ownership to NTEC in three years. Arizona Public Service, meanwhile, is one of many utilities vowing to reach 100-percent clean energy or net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

PNM’s deal with NTEC has been under fire. A hearing examiner with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission issued an order a few weeks ago saying Public Service Co. of New Mexico’s application to abandon its stake in the Four Corners Power Plant was insufficient and doesn’t go far enough in explaining whether the transaction would benefit the public.

The utility had until Monday to file a revamped application.

Environmentalists have concerns about the sale, saying it would violate a 2019 energy law that aims to end fossil fuel electricity generation over the coming decades. They argued that the utility hasn’t provided testimony about whether the proposed sale of the shares to the Navajo Transitional Energy Co. would result in a net public benefit.

PNM’s abandonment request seeks to recover $300 million it has invested in Four Corners using low-cost bonds that would be paid off by utility customers.

The five units built at Four Corners were commissioned from 1963 to 1970. The first three units were shut down in 2013, while Units 4 and 5 are planned to be retired by 2031.

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The future of coal-fired generation is an important piece of the electricity sector puzzle in coming years. POWERGEN International is looking at the issue from many angles, including its Decarbonization, Optimizing Plant Performance and Trends in Conventional Power tracks. The POWERGEN Call for Speakers is now open until May 17 and seeking session ideas for the live event.

POWERGEN International will be Jan. 26-28 in Dallas.

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