WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The Navajo Generating Station will close this year as planned after 11 Navajo lawmakers voted against legislation that would have supported the Navajo Transitional Energy Company to acquire it and the Kayenta Mine to keep them running.
The plant’s five owners – Arizona Public Service, Bureau of Reclamation, NV Energy, Salt River Project, and Tucson Electric Power – voted in February 2017 to close the 2,250-megawatt power plant, citing competition from natural gas.The plant’s fate might have been sealed earlier if not for the federal government and the Navajo and the Hopi tribes. The Bureau of Reclamation owns 24.3 percent of the plant. Outgoing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last year made personal appeals to keep it open.But with no companies willing to take the risk since 2017, Navajo leaders said on Nov. 2, 2018, they want the tribe to take control of the plant, saying they requested NTEC to negotiate a deal with the plant and the mine owners, allowing for continued operations and preserving jobs and revenue for both tribes.
NTEC, which the Nation is the sole shareholder, had pushed for months to take ownership of the plant and Peabody Western Coal Company’s Kayenta Mine on Black Mesa – even in the face of persistent questions about financial risks tied to the plan.
David Schlissel, the director of resource planning analysis at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said the decisions were in the best interest of the Navajo people.
“NTEC’s proposal, had it been allowed to proceed, would’ve meant serious long-term economic damage to the Navajo Nation,” said Schlissel, the lead author of several recent IEEFA reports suggesting the economic and financial peril associated with NTEC’s plan.Schlissel listed a number of things, including the lack of apparent customers to buy power from an NTEC-operated plant, and the burden of cleanup liabilities that would come with owning NGS and the mine – a burden that would likely have cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But that won’t happen. The Naabik’íyáti Committee of the 24th Navajo Nation Council voted 9-11 to end the pursuit. NTEC officials said Friday that due to the continued demand by the owners of the plant that the Nation provide an unlimited guarantee of any liability for the decommissioning of the plant, the company is forced to cease its acquisition effort.
“We recognize the decision of the 24th Council to allow NGS and Kayenta (Mine) to close at the end of this year,” said Erny Zah, NTEC spokesman.
Environmental activists who have long opposed coal operations on the Navajo Nation cheered the council’s decision.
“This is an important time to remember that vast resources were once spent to install coal operations on Navajo Nation,” said Percy Deal, a former Navajo councilman and a former Navajo County supervisor, “and that vast wealth and benefit was extracted for decades over the heads of so many Navajo communities.”
Deal, who resides on Black Mesa, located around 70 miles from LeChee, Arizona, went on to say that remembering this past shows the path ahead.
“Full corporate responsibility for affected coal workers, full restoration for affected coal workers, full restoration of damaged land and water, and full commitment now from utilities to be customers for clean energy resources from Navajo land in ways that benefit Navajo people,” Deal said.
“It is time now to embrace and develop the rich solar potential of the region,” Schlissel added.
In the wake of the legislation’s defeat, a new legislation was also introduced Thursday evening to end the Nation’s half-a-century of economic dependence on coal.
That legislation is 0073-19, which proposes rescinding the Nation’s current energy policies (coal) and replacing them with a vision that moves beyond coal source revenues and forward to sustainable and renewable energy sources.