No place is being hit harder by the decline of the U.S. coal-fired electricity generation industry than northern Arizona, where Navajo Generating Station will close in December. Its fuel-source, the Kayenta Mine, shut down at the end of August.
Combined, the power plant and the mine employ, or employed, more than 700 people in a region that can ill afford such job losses. The shutdowns, driven by market forces that in recent years have favored natural gas-powered generation and, increasingly, wind and solar, will be an especially harsh economic blow to the region’s Hopi and Navajo populations.
Navajo Generating Station, the largest coal-fired plant west of the Mississippi, and the Kayenta Mine have provided good-paying work that has supported households and extended families for 50 years while creating important knock-on benefits for community-owned businesses of all kinds.
These losses will be magnified by the devastating impact on tribal budgets. The Hopi government relies on revenue from the plant-mine complex for 85 percent of its spending for crucial childcare programs, healthcare, education funding and a host of other public services — services that have no alternative source of funding. The Navajo government has announced plans to cut its spending next year by 23 percent, a drastic reduction that is cruel by any standard.
Tribal communities in the area are among the most impoverished in the country, a characteristic they share with parts of Appalachia, another swath...
Before the arrival of the U.S. Army in the mid-1800s, four mountains marked the boundary of the Navajo’s ancestral homeland. Today, the tribe could draw a line around its reservation with coal.Four coal-fired power plants and three coal mines ring the Navajo Nation, a testament to the black rock’s complicated legacy on a sprawling reservation that occupies large swaths of high desert in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.But coal’s days in Navajo country are increasingly numbered.Two of the four plants are scheduled to close by 2025. The fate of the third rests upon a longshot bid to keep it open beyond 2022. And the fourth faces growing uncertainty, as one of its owners plans to divest from the plant in 2031.
The wave of retirements represents a watershed moment for the Navajo and a test case for America’s wider transition away from coal. Tribal leaders are increasingly looking to wind and solar to fill the gap left by the fossil fuel. Navajo renewable developers talk of a second chance to reap the riches of the energy industry.
Yet serious questions loom. Tribal officials are projecting up to $35 million in budget cuts in 2021, the result of closing a massive plant and coal mine later this year. It’s unclear just how many jobs that wind and solar can create to replace the more than a thousand tribal jobs in the coal industry.
“You have to really look at the past. For almost the last hundred years, the nation — which I mean the Navajo Nation —...
The Navajo Nation has given up trying to purchase one of the West’s largest coal-fired power plants. The facility is an economic engine, but it’s also one of the region’s largest carbon emitters.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Three generations of Navajo and Hopi have worked for the West’s largest coal-fired power plant. The tribes have relied heavily on its revenue. But now that an Arizona utility has announced it’s shutting down the Navajo Generating Station at the end of the year, the tribe is looking for alternatives, both in jobs and sources of energy. From member station KJZZ, Laurel Morales reports.
LAUREL MORALES, BYLINE: At first, the tribes fought hard to hold on to coal. It finally came down to a vote late last month at a Navajo special council meeting.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: New business – Legislation 0044-19.
MORALES: Delegate Nathaniel Brown and his colleagues deliberated for eight hours on whether or not the tribe should purchase the plant.
NATHANIEL BROWN: Are we ready? Are we ready for the shutdown? I don’t think we are. We stand to lose a lot. Our children, the future generation.
CHARLAINE TSO: (Foreign language spoken). Shame on you. (Foreign language spoken). Money, money, money. It’s replaceable. Enough is enough.
MORALES: Delegate Charlaine Tso said she’s done with coal and its health impacts on her people.
TSO: This is the time that we’re going to take a stand, that we’re going to come together for...
Nez-Lizer embrace renewable energy
In front of an exuberant crowd of supporters, President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer on Tuesday signed a proclamation to move toward renewable energy, joining a national trend.
The “Navajo Sunrise (Háyoolkáál) Proclamation” “creates a new economic vision for the Navajo people through healing the land, fostering clean energy development and providing leadership for the energy market.”
“This is a big move for the Navajo Nation,” said Nez. “This is nothing new to us as indigenous peoples — being stewards of the land and using what Creator has given us in terms of natural resources.”
This comes on the heels of the Navajo Nation Council voting down the potential acquisition by the Navajo Transitional Energy Company of the Navajo Generating Station.
“It’s time for our land to heal and become green again,” said Nez. “Creator has blessed us during the winter season with a lot of snow and rain. Now it’s the season for planting and renewal. What we’re doing today is planting a seed for our future and for our younger generation.”