The Navajo Nation in Arizona is walking away from nearly 50 years of economic dependence on coal after dropping its bid to take over the 2,250-MW Navajo Generating Station, one of the largest remaining coal plants in the southwestern United States, and the Kayenta mine operated by the now-bankrupt Peabody Energy.
The Naa’bik’iyati’ Committee (Committee of the Whole) of the Navajo Council voted March 21 to reject Navajo Transitional Energy Company’s plan to buy out the two facilities, then immediately adopted a resolution that rescinded the Nation’s current, coal-focused energy policies and “declares the intention of the Nation to move beyond coal source revenues and forward to sustainable and renewable energy sources,” reports Western Clean Energy Campaign Executive Director Eric Frankowski, in a post for CleanTechnica.
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Past news reports had the Navajo and Hopi nations facing hundreds of job losses due to the coal plant’s imminent closure, but “serious financial risk” in the effort to acquire the two facilities.
“We are way behind in our planning for what comes next because so much time has been spent trying to keep Navajo Generating Station and Kayenta Mine running,” said Tó Nizhóní Áni Executive Director Nicole Horseherder. “It’s time for us to come together and work cooperatively on building a clean energy economy that benefits all Navajo. There’s much hard work ahead to create this transition, but with the leadership shown by the new Navajo Council and our new president, we have a bright future in front of us.”
“This is an historic moment for the Navajo, and the Council delegates should be thanked for their courage in listening to the people,” said Black Mesa Water Coalition Just Transition Campaigner Marie Gladue. “For a half century, coal has divided us, but we now have an incredible opportunity to come together to create something better, especially for places like Black Mesa. Now we will focus on building something better, a new economy more in line with Navajo culture and our way of life, protecting our land and water and benefitting all communities.”
“It’s been known for a long time that coal isn’t the future, but this final certainty is crucial,” said Diné CARE member Lori Goodman. “For anyone who’s been hesitant about moving strongly for renewable energy development, for building our economy in ways that will benefit our communities and our Mother Earth and Father Sky, now there is no reason or excuse to hold back. This moment is why our new council and president were elected. The legacy they will leave for the transition from coal starts now.”
“This is an important time to remember that vast resources were once spent to install coal operations on Navajo Nation, and that vast wealth and benefit was extracted for decades over the heads of so many Navajo communities,” said former Navajo Council member and Navajo County supervisor Percy Deal. “Remembering this past shows the path ahead: full corporate responsibility 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.”
The Financial Post says decommissioning contracts for the coal plant could be issued as early as next month.
“Navajo leaders asked the Navajo Transitional Energy Company last year to look into acquiring the power plant and the coal mine as a way to save the revenue and hundreds of jobs held by tribal members,” the paper reports. “Negotiations with the power plant owners came to a halt recently over who ultimately would be responsible for cleanup.”
The current owners “wanted the energy company to take on any known or unknown liabilities for the plant, but the Navajo Nation declined. With that, and a decision Thursday from a Navajo Nation Council committee not to support the acquisition, the energy company called it quits.”
So far, about 280 power plant workers have found new jobs, retired, or declined to accept positions with the Salt River Project state utility, the Post states. “Peabody Energy, which runs the Kayenta Mine, laid off 40 employees in late February and is sending its last shipment of coal to the power plant before the end of September, company spokeswoman Charlene Murdock said. About 300 workers are at the mine.”
Elsewhere in Arizona, KTVN TV reports that 34 rural renewables projects developed between 2001 and 2017 are already generating US$9.4 billion in economic impact, nearly 18,000 jobs, $1.2 billion in wages, and $16.7 million in state and local tax revenue, according to a study by The Western Way and the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce. “Rural Arizona has some of the best solar resources in the country, and this report shows in great detail how the industry is benefiting our state with increased jobs and economic opportunities,” said Western Way Arizona Director Jaime Molera. “Over the last decade, market forces drove technological improvements leading to drops in the prices of utility-scale solar which are cost competitive for utilities and can save ratepayers money. More investment in utility scale renewables will grow Arizona’s rural economy.”
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