Let's give solar a chance

Black Mesa Trust is proposing a solar power facility that will deliver up to 1,000 megawatts of electricity during the peak or near-peak periods of the day, enough to power 600,000 homes. It will contribute significantly to reducing global warming.

The facility will use fewer than 5,000 acres or about six-plus square miles of land and will be sited on the Hopi and Navajo reservations. It will provide an annual income of about $8 to $10 million and 1,500 -- 2,000 construction jobs for approximately three years and about 250 permanent jobs. When completed this will be the world's largest solar power generation station.

Cost effective

The cost of solar energy systems largely depends on the volume of production. For example, one solar dish could cost more than $10,000 per kilowatt -- about $250,000 per 25 kilowatt dish. However, high volume manufacturing could reduce the cost of each dish system dramatically.

Engineers at Stirling Energy Systems of Phoenix estimate that a 1,000 MW power plant would require 40,000 25 kw dishes (a 25 kw dish will supply electricity for 600 homes). At that level of production, the cost of dishes falls below $2,000 per kw or about $30,000 per dish. As the manufacturing methods improve and volume increases the cost will come down even more.

This brings the cost of peak power generated from these dishes down to approximately 10 cents per kilowatt hour, a very competitive level when compared with power produced from clean coal-fired plants, natural gas powered plants or virtually any other unsubsidized power generating facility. Although "dirty coal" fired plants, like Mohave Generating Station, produce electricity at only four to five cents per kwh, soon-to-be-implemented stricter environmental regulations and escalating coal and gas prices are expected to drive the price much higher.

Financial incentives

The development of renewable energy production facilities will benefit from generous economic incentives such as tax credits and subsidies, grants, low-interest loans, loan guarantees, municipal bonds and renewable energy credits under Title V (Indian Energy Development and Self-determination Act) of the Energy Act of 2005.

Title V of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, signed into law by President George Bush in August 2005, provides generous economic incentives for Indian tribes to enter into the energy generation and transmission business. The act, however, could become problematic for coal mining on Black Mesa because all the coal under former Navajo-Hopi Joint Use Land is still equally and jointly owned by both tribes. In order to take advantage of Title V, both tribes must establish their own independent regulatory requirements, including environmental and cultural protection standards. Unless both tribes agree to a joint regulatory requirement, mining companies will be reluctant to mine on Black Mesa. This could become problematic for coal but not for solar generation, since 500 MW solar unit will be sited on Hopi and another 500 MW on Navajo.

Why solar?

Solar power has a number of advantages:

¥ The source of energy is infinite, while coal-fired generating stations use a finite, non-renewable resource.

¥ It is compatible with the Hopi view that we can enjoy benefits of modern society without degrading the environment.

¥ It will use very little water compared to the 1.4 billion gallons annually that Peabody Coal is currently using.

¥ It will not be subject to future environmental regulatory uncertainties, such as restrictions on mercury and Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

¥ It will replace the current tribal royalties provided by Black Mesa Mine, and make Hopi and Navajo less dependent on Peabody.

¥ It will employ many more Hopis than are currently employed by Peabody;

¥ It will diversify our revenue base, one of the top priorities of the Hopi Tribe;

¥ It solar and wind are the only real renewable energy sources. Wind and solar power do not contribute to "global warming." On the other, hand dirty coal-fired plants like Mohave produce the excessive carbon dioxide that is trapping heat around the earth;

¥ It will not require daily destruction of the land caused by constant blasting to get at the coal seams. Peabody's blasting continues non-stop during the month of December (Kyaamuya--Month of Respect) when Hopis are forbidden to disturb the earth out of respect for the ancestors.

¥ Southern California Edison customers as well as businesses and residents in Flagstaff and other towns and cities will get a chance to participate by buying Renewable Energy Credits including CO2 credits.

Huge solar contracts

In August, Southern California Edison and Stirling Energy Systems announced that they had completed negotiations on a power purchase agreement for 500 MW of power, possibly expanding to 850 MW.

Stirling Energy's second huge solar contract is with San Diego Gas and Electric for 300 MW of solar power.

These agreements show that the major utility companies are now convinced that the Stirling Energy System is a proven technology.

The Nov.11, 2005 edition of the Wall Street Journal carried a major article about SES solar dish technology. In the paper, John Bryce, head of SCE, is quoted as saying he was attracted to Stirling's technology because "at least in the lab, it increases efficiencies to twice what we'd seen from other solar technologies."

Peter Johnson, head of Arizona Public Service's research department likes the dish technology because, "It's no more complicated than a car." APS has been using the SES dish as a demonstration project.

SES is also under study in the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) proceedings, which look seriously at alternative energies using solar and wind

Renewable energy portfolios

The Arizona Corporate Commission will be voting soon to require investor-owned utilities to purchase 2.5 percent of retail electricity from renewable energy production. The rate will increase to 5 percent by 2015 and 15 percent in 2025. California will require all utility companies to purchase 33 percent of their power from renewable energy production by 2020, according to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Western Governors Association has also established a goal to develop 30,000 MW of clean energy by 2015, and California's new emission standards will discourage purchase of power generated by fossil fuels, such as that produced by the coal-fired Mohave plant. This will provide huge economic incentives for clean, renewable power production.

Economic opportunity

This focus on renewable energies will create unprecedented opportunities for Navajos, Hopis and other Indian nations to develop solar and wind generated power plants on tribal lands, and help neighboring states with their clean power initiatives. In Arizona, where the sun shines 97 percent of the year, the tribes own 27 percent of the land, and almost all of the major transmission lines crisscross their reservations. This puts Arizona tribes in a strategic position for power generation and transmission.

Without the endorsement and support of Hopi and Navajo governments, the 1000 MW solar project will not come to fruition. Black Mesa Trust can only initiate and carry out research and planning and cost analysis. It cannot carry out development and financing; however, it can assist the tribes.

Clean Energy Initiative

In order to support the Tribe, Black Mesa Trust will soon launch the Colorado Plateau Clean Energy Initiative. The initiative will be carried out by a consortium of environmental legal and business organizations dedicated to clean energy development on the Colorado Plateau, which some Hopi refer to as a "learning plaza" for all mankind.

This solar project idea started when the Black Mesa Trust and To Nizohni Ani, a Navajo grassroots organization, were searching for ways to mitigate or fully offset the loss of income from the planned closure of the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev. The groups learned about Stirling Energy Systems, and Water & Energy Consulting of California presented the solar alternative to the California Public Utilities Commission on behalf of the two indigenous environmental organizations.

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