With the Navajo Generating Station Gone, We Need Help Luring Investment to Our Land

CHRIS DESCHENE // OPINION CONTRIBUTOR // MAY 23, 2020

The world is changing right before our eyes. I will be 49 this summer, about the same age as our remote community of LeChee, Navajo Nation near Page, Arizona.

And, for all these years, I can tell you that Page has flourished while LeChee has languished for nearly five decades due to poverty, unemployment, lack of resources and infrastructure. 

In particular, Page has thrived from the operation of Navajo Generating Station or NGS, a 2.25 megawatt coal-fired electric generation station. 

Last December, NGS’s owners shut down it because it was no longer economically viable and profitable given the coal industries decline.  Since the Navajo Nation had no ownership, it was powerless to stop this closure.  While Arizona benefited from tax revenues, NGS also provided 45 years of employment and royalties paid to the Navajo and Hopi tribal coffers.

It wasn’t supposed to close until 2044.

NGS’s closure revealed that while distant utilities and energy industries were making transitions based upon economic trends and profit predictions, the Navajo Nation wasn’t aware much less prepared to make a just transition. 

Its closure highlighted an absence of community transition plans, revenue and job replacement strategies, education and career policies to support a new renewable energy economy. 

It has been tough for our tribes.

Fortunately, we have learned that renewable energy sources like solar power have great potential to replace, catalyze and support stronger local tribal economies including returning revenue and jobs.  We know private investors are hungry for new opportunities to support clean, renewable, sustainable solutions to the climate challenges affecting us all. 

With the coronavirus outbreak, we are witnessing a real time battle between an increased demand for renewable energy systems against the pending economic slowdown as a result of the pandemic.  Despite the Trump administration’s slow support for renewable energy policies and their penchant for fossil fuels, the clean energy industry continues to grow, and state governments are planning for renewable energy development regardless of the coronavirus setback.

Now is our time. 

As a public benefit corporation, Navajo Power serves to maximize the economic benefits of clean energy for tribal and impacted communities.  As result, we are working with Indian Country to strengthen the potential and strategic positioning of the tribes we work with.  In particular, we are working with the Navajo Nation and its communities to compete with other utilities under existing request for proposals.

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