A sign of the times?
The Navajo Generating Station (NGS), a coal-fired power plant located in the northern Arizona community of Page, is shutting down. Moreover, the 78-mile Black Mesa & Lake Powell (BM&LP) Railroad – built to haul the black carbonaceous rock between the mine and plant – is likewise itself terminating operations. Peabody Energy’s Kayenta Mine – where the generating facility’s coal supply was sourced – meanwhile, has been shuttered already.
The NGS’s story practically mirrors that of the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada, which preceded NGS’s closure by almost 15 years. It stopped generating in 2005. MGS had been supplied with coal from the Black Mesa Mine located very near to the Kayenta Mine.
The railroad, in service for close to 50 years, served its customers well. For the BM&LP the closure is bitter sweet and marks the end of an era. That the generating plant is closing, there will no longer be a need for the railroad.
A Black Mesa & Lake Powell hallmark was its fully electric operation. BM&LP has no physical rail connection to the national rail network – it is an isolated rail property, in other words. The railroad, according to Wikipedia, is owned by the Salt River Project. The supply of electricity comes courtesy of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.
Also according to Wikipedia, as to the coal hauled, it is classified as “high volatile C bituminous.” Its sulfur content is low, relatively speaking or 0.63 percent. The coal’s lower-sulfur content makes it less destructive to air and the environment when ignited where both sulfur dioxide (SO2) releases and the formation of acid rain are concerned.
To help further counteract this, scrubbers were added to the generating station in the late 1990s. The effectiveness of the scrubbers was such that better than 90 percent of SO2 emissions were removed. Other released pollutants connected to coal burning include mercury, oxides of nitrogen and fine particulates. Those emissions at the generating site were cut as well.
Also having to do with helping save the air is that in building the railroad and operating electric trains between mine and power plant, this means a number of truck moves could be eliminated. One railroad hopper car can haul enough coal to fill, at the very least, that which could be carried by two trucks and perhaps as many as three. Multiply that by the hundreds and it is easy to see how many truck-hauling-coal-moves could be removed from area roads, requiring a tractor apiece to pull each load and hence a significant amount of pollution removed from area air.
Natural gas is more and more substituting for less competitive and less attractive coal, the gaseous fossil fuel being the more environmentally friendly of the two.
The Navajo Generating Station will be online until December 2019.
Images: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (upper); U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (lower)