Working together, the Din Power Authority -- an enterprise of the Navajo Nation -- and Sithe Global Power are building a new 1,500 mega-watt coal-fired power plant to meet increased electricity demands in the rapidly growing Southwest. The Desert Rock Energy Project will create real opportunities for the Din people of the Navajo Nation while providing a base of additional long-term tax and other revenues.
With the sting of the closure of the Mohave Generating facility fresh in the minds of our community, now more than ever we need to focus on the development of the new Desert Rock Energy Project located at the mouth of the BHP mine, south of Shiprock, N.M. on 580 acres of the Navajo Reservation.
Despite losing hundreds of good-paying jobs at the Black Mesa Mine and millions in coal royalties and water payments from the Navajo resources used at the Mohave plant, Desert Rock can help move the Navajo Nation forward and provide new economic opportunities that will improve the Navajo quality of life.
For the Nation to remain strong, Navajos need good-paying jobs and reliable, long-term revenues. Desert Rock will employ thousands of people during the four-year construction and provide around 200 permanent jobs for plant workers, as well as another 200 permanent mining jobs. These are good-paying jobs in which Native Americans will be given hiring preference assuring that local workers will get local jobs.
The $2.5 billion project will also be one of the largest taxpayers on the Navajo Nation, and through taxes, coal royalties and other payments will provide more than $50 million in yearly revenue -- more than 30 percent of the Nation's current annual general budget -- for perhaps as long as 30 years. Much of the money can be expected to go toward existing social and health programs for the Navajo people, not just in the chapters surrounding the plant, but across Navajoland. The additional revenues will allow Din leaders to improve health care to the Navajo people, increase educational opportunities for Navajo children and adults, protect Navajo residents with improved law enforcement programs, build new roads and infrastructure and provide much-needed opportunities to strengthen programs for Navajo seniors.
The lengthy public process for the Desert Rock Energy Project has produced some opposition and some powerful support, too, from local Navajo chapters like the Nenahnezad Chapter. The Navajo Nation Council has supported DPA with specific funding for Desert Rock and recently held an information session prior to the Winter Legislative Session to be updated on the tremendous progress being made finalizing the key elements of the project.
In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. recently said, "Simply put, the Desert Rock project is addressing one of the most important economic development, environmental and energy challenges facing the Navajo Nation and the desert southwest today. I am writing to confirm in the strongest possible terms that the Navajo Nation supports the efforts of DPA and Sithe."
Not only will Desert Rock provide jobs, lifestyle and financial opportunities for the Navajo people, it is also an environmental success story. This project will be a model for future coal plants, setting new standards according to EPA officials.
It will use nearly every major proven technology, including activated carbon injection technologies to significantly reduce mercury emissions, and highly efficient boilers that will improve operations so much that even carbon dioxide emissions will be dramatically reduced compared to conventional coal plants. Technologies to address other pollutants like Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) will also be employed reducing all emissions to dramatically low levels. It is also dry-cooled, unlike other plants like Mohave, limiting dramatically the amount of water needed to operate the plant. The USEPA has said the proposed emissions levels appear to be the lowest ever applied for anywhere in the country for a pulverized-coal plant of its size using existing technology.
Due to emission reductions at existing plants, the Four Corners region's air quality has been steadily improving over the past 15 years. And with new federal efforts to reduce mercury from power plants for the first time ever, regional efforts to reduce haze coordinated by the Western Regional Air Partnership, aggressive state efforts led by Gov. Richardson and the efforts of the Navajo Nation itself to enforce tough pollution limits, much progress still remains to be completed. The Desert Rock Energy Facility -- with all its effort to minimize its environmental impact -- is on the leading edge of these efforts.
The benefits for the Desert Rock Energy Facility are abundantly clear. This project will mean real opportunities for Navajos -- employment and quality of life. The more than $50 million yearly revenue that the plant will generate will have tremendous impact on the Din people. It will also encourage more businesses to invest in the Navajo Nation. These are real chances to improve the quality of life for the Navajo people -- and it is being done in the most environmentally responsible way.
For years, the Navajo Nation has looked for smart ways to translate its vast natural resources into tangible benefits for its people. With the Desert Rock Energy Facility, it has a golden opportunity.
(Dirk Straussfeld is the Executive Vice President of Sithe Global Power. Steven Begay is General Manager of the Dine' Power Authority -- an enterprise of the Navajo Nation responsible for utility scale energy development.)