Letter to the editor: Navajo Nation grassroots groups urge Nation’s leaders to look toward a more sustainable future than coal

The Navajo Generating Station uses coal to produce electricity. Because of recently declining prices of natural gas, the station is facing an uncertain future. Adobe stock

The Navajo Generating Station uses coal to produce electricity. Because of recently declining prices of natural gas, the station is facing an uncertain future. Adobe stock

To the editor:

Today a deal was voted on in a closed meeting by utility Salt River Project (SRP)expected to continue operations at Navajo Generating Station (NGS), the largest coal-burning power plant in the West, for another two years.

SRP had considered closing the plant as soon as this summer because it and the plant’s other owners are losing hundreds of millions of dollars annually running NGS. The agreement with the Navajo Nation would allow the utilities to operate the plant through the expiration of their current lease at the end of 2019 and then complete decommissioning of the plant and cleanup activities for another several years.

Given the dire state of coal markets and the extreme unlikelihood that the sector will ever recover, Navajo grassroots groups are urging the Navajo Nation’s leadership to take advantage of the deal to build a more sustainable economy and not squander the new retirement timeline by trying to keep the plant running past 2019.

“With this new extension, now is the time to plan a transition that supports the Navajo Nation long-term, investing in renewable energy and job creation, cleaning up and remediating the pollution the plant and mine have left behind, taking care of our water and environment, and addressing the health impacts our families have suffered as a result of using coal,” said Nicole Horseherder, of Tó Nizhóní Ání.

“Let’s not fool ourselves — coal has zero future. The utilities rushing to get out of NGS know it, energy experts across the country know it and we know it,” said Percy Deal, of Diné CARE. “Any extension of operations on NGS beyond the deal reached will delay the Navajo Nation’s transition to a sustainable economy. We call on Navajo leaders to prioritize a transition away from coal and develop a plan that can truly save jobs, that secures our water rights for the Navajo and Hopi, and that cleans up the mess that mining and burning coal have left in our communities.”

Recent economic analysis have exposed how economically disastrous operating the Navajo Generating Station and nearby Kayenta Mine, which supplies the plant, past 2019 would be. The Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) issued a report last week saying it would require in the range of $2 billion in taxpayer subsidies to keep the plant afloat.

An analysis by Synapse Energy Economics, commissioned by the Sierra Club, also found up to $2 billion in costs that coal mining company Peabody Energy ignored in misleading claims that NGS could continue to be economically feasible. That analysis is available at http://bit.ly/2qAzCSP.

Percy Deal, Diné CARE, and Nicole Horseherder, Tó Nizhóni Ání

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