PAGE – A number of Diné men and women on Monday protested along Fifth Avenue in New York City to urge global investment firm Avenue Capital to withdraw their bid to buy the Navajo Generating Station. The protestors say continued operation of the plant will hurt the Navajo Nation.
NGS is set to decommission at the end of 2019 unless a new owner can be found. When the plant closes, the Kayenta Mine – located on Black Mesa, 75 miles away, where low-sulfur coal is mined – will die, and so will the lifeline for the Hopi Tribe.
But the plant may soon have a new owner and a new operator in place, both of which would keep the plant in LeChee going beyond Dec. 22, 2019.
Negotiations between the tribe, Avenue Capital and power plant consultant Middle River Power are now underway, according to the Navajo president’s office.
The Chicago-based Middle River Power would run the plant at less than half its existing capacity to ensure it is economical. Fewer employees, a new lease and a coal supply agreement are also part of the operating profile – that’s if Middle River Power takes over NGS.
Citing high electricity costs, NGS’s five utility owners voted last February to close the plant at the end of next year. The federal government, the Bureau of Reclamation, though wanted to explore ways to keep the plant open.
In an open meeting of the Arizona Corporation Commission in Phoenix on Aug. 14, Joseph Greco, senior vice president for Middle River Power, presented a plan that would keep NGS open beyond 2019.
Greco said MRP would operate the plant at 44 percent of its capacity and operate differently during peak and off-peak demand, making it more economical while ensuring a steady power base. “We view it that we have a different operating profile,” Greco said at that time, “a different paradigm of how we would keep operating costs down and be able to provide power at a competitive price to market.”
Strategically, Greco says, leadership of MRP has the opportunity of saying they “need to be able to have a minimum-run profile.”
“The numbers we’re talking about is around 44 percent annually, to be able to be economical to make this go forward,” Greco said.
And one way to do that is by running two units in the off-peak and running three units in the peak period, which would give MRP the ability to be competitive within the market.
“Generally, that gives the ability for a sustained resiliency for the energy market in the state of Arizona,” Greco added.
NGS and Peabody Energy’s Kayenta Mine are important to the welfare of the Hopi and Navajo tribes. Together, both the plant and the mine employ around 845 people, a majority of which are Native. Therefore, many Natives support the sale and continued operation of the plant. However, many support the shutter of the plant.
Nicholas Ashley, coordinator for Tó Nizhóní ‘Ání Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona who supports the shutdown of the plant, says the Native American existence is bound to the fate of the land, water and air.
“The financial capital of the world needs to know that Diné people will no longer be putting our bodies and our homelands on the line for multinational corporations,” Ashley said.
Rene Simonson, 19, added saying, “The entire world is moving toward renewable energy and the Navajo Nation will be left out.”
Simonson continued, “I am the new generation from Black Mesa, Arizona. My vision is to see my Navajo people have economic opportunities that do not destroy our culture and language.”
Salt River Project, the current operator of NGS, suggests keeping the plant open beyond 2019 will result in losses exceeding $130 million annually.