When it comes to climate change, what we see is not what we’ve got. What we’ve got is the product of what we have already done, and the consequences? — well, you ain’t seen nuttin’ yet. The overheating of the planet, the depletion of atmospheric protection against the sun we’ve reached today is guaranteed to play out tomorrow and over the next human generation. And if we can radically change course and reduce carbon emissions today, it will be the generation after the next one that will feel and see the benefits.
That unrewarding lag time is, in itself, a spur to action to shrink our carbon footprint as fast as we can, before still more generations suffer from continental drought and coastal sea rise — more hurricanes, wildfires and flash floods of ever-increasing size.
Just this summer, the Four Corners region, where the states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona come together, has endured smoke conditions from wildfires and dealt with flash flooding from heavy monsoon rains and while in the midst of, maybe the worst of a generation-long drought. Climate change hurts.
But the hurt from climate change comes slowly. The hurt from adjusting to climate change is coming quickly and painfully to the Four Corners and the small city of Farmington, New Mexico. The San Juan power generation station is a hub of the regional economy, providing discount-priced energy and jobs — at the power plant and at the nearby coal mines that fire-up the power.
The San Juan generating station is in the process of shutting down, to prevent more coal-fired carbon emissions. The owner of the plant, the public utility PNM, has the padlocks ready, with the governor and state legislature cheering them on. Power from the wind and sun will largely replace the generating station’s product, but what will replace San Juan’s contributions to Farmington in jobs and revenues?
There is a self-nominated contender … a company called Enchant Energy which wants to keep San Juan open, but convert it from conventional power generation to the newer technology of carbon capture.
The idea is not just keeping carbon emissions out of the atmosphere, but selling some of the captured carbon to the oil and gas drillers in the Permian Basin of Southeastern New Mexico and West Texas, and burying the carbon dioxide that can’t be sold in safe places not too far from the plant.
Sounds like a plan, but so far, Enchant Energy has had a hard time selling it to investors. And that was before a cooling tower at the San Juan Generating Plant suddenly came tumbling down.
Hannah Grover covers environmental issues for the NM Political Report after she spwent sweveral years reporting on local government in Aztec, Bloomfield, Farmington, Kirtland and San Juan County for the Farmington, NM Daily Times. She is a graduate of The University of Montana’s School of Journalism in Missoula, Montana.