Rebuilding the West Through Bold Investment in Clean Energy


Amid trying times and economic hardship like we are currently facing, it’s often difficult to find a silver lining, but it’s worth noting that bold projects that drive meaningful change have often sprung out of turmoil and crises. Take Hoover and Glen Canyon dams, for example, which rose from the depths of the Great Depression to put Americans to back to work and power the economic growth of the West.

Renewable energy development can be the same kind of catalyst for restoring our economic strength post-Covid-19. The revolution transitioning our lives from fossil fuels to clean energy was already well underway before this pandemic turned our world upside down. And like western water development, it can and should continue to be a lifeline that tethers our economy to solid ground as we reformulate a new reality. At some point in the very near future, we will need to put millions of people back to work – quickly. Building new clean energy infrastructure is one of the best and fastest ways we can get people working again. And one of the best places to do so is here in Arizona, in particular on the Navajo Nation, where we have an opportunity to upgrade the historic energy partnership that the Southwest has had with the tribe through concentrated investment.

As developers of renewable energy, we can put thousands of people to work in the Southwest with family-supporting jobs, help boost tax revenue across the region, supporting schools and emergency and social services that are now more important than ever, and strengthen the resilience of aging electricity infrastructure. In doing so, we will also improve disaster preparedness and our ability to weather crises in the future.

But we must act now. Of course, leadership and bold action at the federal level will be key ingredients in kick-starting this effort, but Western States need not wait for the feds. A coalition of governments, tribes, companies, investors, NGOs and communities should begin working immediately – and cooperatively – to ramp up efforts that will remake the West into a model of resilient economic development.

The Navajo Nation can play a central role in this trajectory. The Nation already has been a driving force in the development of the American West, its water, uranium and coal allowing cities like Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas and Los Angeles to grow and flourish. Coal-fired power plants like Navajo Generating Station, Four Corners, Mojave, San Juan and Cholla – some of the biggest in the West and all situated on or near Navajo resources – delivered electricity to these cities and in turn created thousands of jobs and brought significant revenue to the Navajo Nation and the Hopi.

Even before Covid-19 struck, these plants were entering their sunset years, with a swiftly changing energy landscape hastening their closures as cleaner options outcompete them. NGS closed permanently in November. The San Juan plant in New Mexico will be shuttered in less than three years. One unit at the Cholla plant will stop running this year and the remaining two by 2025. And Arizona Public Service, which operates the Four Corners plant, just announced that it was stepping up its retirement date by seven years, to 2031.

Clean energy was already stepping up to fill the void being left by these closures. Now it’s time to accelerate that process even more, capitalizing on the latent potential and strategic positioning of Navajo, combined with the ambitious clean energy goals of Western states.

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