When it's Good Business, We All Win

Not too long ago, utility companies were considered the "bad guys" in the fight against climate change. You've heard all the rhetoric -- and we've seen the frustration as environmentalists, utilities and communities try to balance our appetite for energy with our needs for a clean environment.

Perhaps we're entering a new phase in the climate change debate. The proof? Earlier this week, Arizona Public Service (APS), the largest utility company in Arizona, announced plans to shut down the dirtiest part of the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant. Four Corners, according to an editorial this week in the Arizona Republic, has long been "one of the dirtiest generating stations in the nation."

Under a deal in which APS will buy out Southern California Edison's stake in the plant -- a newer, cleaner part that on its own will provide a large, consistent base load to complement renewable energy inputs -- Four Corners "should finally lose the title of No. 1 U.S. emitter of nitrogen oxides, which not only cause respiratory problems but also add to haze at the Grand Canyon and other nearby national parks."

To correct this wrong, APS took many things into consideration -- but all it really had to do was inspect its bottom line. Cleaning up the plant and bringing it in line with regulatory requirements would have cost more than shutting it down. As Mark Schiavoni, APS's senior VP of fossil generation, told the Arizona Republic: "It's not only the right thing, but it's good business."

More from the editorial:

What does Arizona Public Service have in common with Alexander the Great? They both cut the Gordian knot.

The Gordian knot of Greek legend had defeated years of attempts to untie it. Alexander looked at the problem another way, pulled out his sword and sliced it in half.

APS was facing prohibitively expensive requirements to clean up one of the dirtiest generating stations in the nation, the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant.

The usual long, costly battle among a utility, regulators and environmentalists was looming.

Instead, APS sliced through the complex issues and came up with a creative solution: Close the dirtiest part of the plant and expand its ownership stake in the newer, cleaner part. APS is buying Southern California Edison's share of Four Corners, which is outside Farmington, N.M. It will also add more pollution controls.

With one ingenious stroke, APS has found a way to benefit customers, the environment, the Navajo Nation and its own long-term corporate interests.