Harrison Mantas

Friday, Nov. 8, 2019

SRP confirms that last day for Navajo Generating Station just days away

WASHINGTON - The Navajo Generating Station will shut down for good in a matter of days, the plant's owners announced this week, once the plant burns through its remaining supply of coal. The closure marks the final chapter in a two-year fight to save the aging power plant and the affiliated Kayenta coal mine, which together had provided hundreds of jobs in one of the most economically depressed parts of the state.

majority owner, Salt River Project, said in an email Friday that the roughly 500 employees now at the plant - most of whom are working on contract - will be cut to 50. Of the 433 workers who were at the plant before the closure was announced, SRP said about 280 accepted offers to relocate to jobs in different facilities, while others either refused or opted to retire. The power plant had long been expected to close no later than the end of this year, but SRP confirmed this week that the final day will probably come by mid- to late next week. The Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe are disproportionately affected by this closure. Calls and emails to both tribes seeking comment Friday were not immediately returned. But in an email in August, shortly before the closure of the Kayenta mine, a Navajo Nation spokesman estimated the mine's closure would mean the loss of roughly $20 million to $30 million in revenue. News of the closure this week also brought renewed calls from Navajo community groups for a transition away from coal toward renewable energy, along with more robust water protections and a return to "Diné Fundamental Law and values in energy policy decisions." "The closing of NGS represents an opportunity to right the longstanding wrongs on water that our people have suffered as a result of coal operations," said a statement Friday from Carol Davis, a director with Navajo environmental group Diné C.A.R.E. In 2017, SRP announced that power from the coal-fired plant could no longer compete with cheaper natural gas, and said it would close NGS no later than the end of 2019. Attempts to find an outside buyer who would continue running the plant failed and in March, the Navajo Nation ended its bid to have the Navajo Transitional Energy Co. buy and run both the mine and power plant. NTEC was created in 2013 to serve a similar function for the Four Corners Power Plant. In the meantime, the Navajo Nation has taken some steps toward embracing green energy, bringing the second phase of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority's Kayenta Solar facility online in September. The

program, which brings in utilities to connect Navajo households to the grid, connected 233 homes in the spring and a second phase is planned for next year. Rep. Tom O'Halleran, D-Sedona, whose district includes both power plant and the Kayenta Mine, introduced a bill in September to provide economic development and job training to people affected by the closures.

is co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Ruben Gallego and Greg Stanton, both of Phoenix, and Ann Kirkpatrick of Tucson. It also has the support of Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Hopi Tribal Chairman Timothy L. Nuvangyaoma. It's currently awaiting a committee hearing in the House. Nicole Horseherder of the group Tó Nizhóní Ání sees the plant and mine closures as an opportunity for the Navajo Nation. "As coal markets end and local power plants and mines close, we stand to benefit from the development of clean-energy projects and from an economic transition that prioritizes local community voices," she said in a

In the same statement, Marie Gladue from the Black Mesa Water Coalition said "we need to heal from the wrongs of the past," and called for energy and water policies "in line with our values and virtues as stewards of the natural world."

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(1) comment

tomgarven

About 4 or 5 years ago I wrote a letter to the chief and recommended they NOT invest in the coal powered electrical generating station. This was at about the same time L.A. and other CA cities were voting to no longer buy electricity from power plants that burn coal. That letter however fell on deaf ears since most of the work on the reservation at the time was related to the operation of the coal burning power plant. What I recommended was a gradual transition and the training of some tribe members for the installation of solar panels and other related solar power products.

You have to realize that there are still hundreds of homes on the reservation that don't even have electricity yet. They live in terrible poverty and when this power plant shuts down there will be hundred of people in the community without jobs. It would have been nice if they could have just transitioned to the job of solar installer instead of standing in an unemployment line. There are thousands of acres of bare land on the reservation which would lend itself to solar power. It is clean power, noiseless and is now cheaper than even a natural gas fired power plant. And solar power plants don't use any water like coal or natural gas plants do. Sell the water as extra income is what I say or use it to grow food on the reservation. Solar could be a money maker for the tribe.

I sincerely hope this time they consider the transition to renewable power as the only responsible path to helping the members of the tribe out of poverty.

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