This post was written by Dru Bacon of the Conservative Alliance for Solar Energy (CASE), a Conservative Energy Network member.
Navajo Generating Station, NGS, is one of the largest and most polluting coal-fired power plants in the US. Although NGS is scheduled to operate for another 25 years, plant owners have decided to completely close the facility in 2019. Critics expected the plant to close because of expensive anti-pollution retrofit scheduled for 2022. However, the plant will close earlier because of significantly lower cost electricity sources available from the grid. Low cost solar, wind, and natural gas have undercut coal power generated by NGS. In good faith, plant owners could no longer justify charging their customers higher prices for NGS power when electric needs could be met with cheaper energy sources.
NGS is operated by Salt River Project, SRP, a private electric utility in Arizona. SRP uses 22% of NGS power to supply their customers and sells the remainder to four other electric utilities in Arizona and Nevada. All five of these utilities have jointly decided that the best course of action is to close the plant in favor of utilizing cheaper grid power.
Shuttering the plant will have positive impacts on water usage and will reduce air, land, and water pollution. But closure of NGS will have a substantial economic impact on the Navajo and Hopi Tribes. Coal is mined on the Hopi reservation at Kayenta Mine and transported to NGS by a single purpose electric train. NGS employs 538 people, most of whom are Navajo and Hopi Tribal members. Direct economic impact to the Tribes will exceed $50 million annually in lost wages.
Efforts are underway to find ways to reduce the impact on the Tribes. Some temporary jobs will be created by cleanup and closure of NGS and Kayenta Mine. But these temporary operations will create only a partial offset of economic losses by the Tribes. Another solution is installing solar farms on the land that take advantage of abandoned NGS transmission lines.
It is incumbent on policymakers and regulators to promote the use of lower cost energy technologies that will benefit ratepayers and stimulate the economy, but also to find ways to mitigate the economic transition communities such as the Navajo and Hopi Tribes may experience. Utility scale and residential solar construction jobs could give the Tribes much needed time to find other prosperous economic opportunities following the closure of NGS.
Dru Bacon, CASE