Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Mon, Jan. 25

Responsible stewardship with solar power, not coal

To the Navajo-Hopi Observer:

"Responsible stewardship requires that we foster a strong conservative (water) ethic." This quote comes from the 2006 Salt River Project (SRP) Annual Report.

Apparently, the water ethic applies only to the Salt River water service area in Phoenix and not to Northern Arizona, a region that the U.S. Department of Interior has categorized as "highly likely" to have major conflicts over water by the year 2025.

SRP, the only one of four owners of Mohave Generating Station willing to try to reopen the "dirtiest coal-fired generating plant" in the West, is working aggressively to save the plant. It has successfully used its enormous political and economic clout to force the U.S. Office of Surface Mining to quickly complete the Environmental Impact Studies on the Black Mesa Project, which includes the Peabody mines on Black Mesa and the proposed project that would supply C-aquifer water to them. SRP has exerted this pressure even though it has not been able to identify any other entity willing to invest in Mohave.

Investing in Mohave as a coal-fired plant is very risky for many reasons. Many issues remain unresolved, such as: 1) the $1.6 billion racketeering lawsuit filed by the Navajo and Hopi Tribes against the Secretary of the Interior, Peabody, and owners of Mohave; 2) proposed use of the N-aquifer to backup the C-aquifer project; without a guaranteed backup water supply, the C-aquifer project will not work, and Hopis are adamant in their position that no groundwater is to be used for mining activities; 3) a resolution passed by the Leupp Chapter opposing the C-aquifer project; and 4) unresolved coal and water leases, and so on.

SRP wants to keep Mohave alive because they expect to have one million new electric customers, who will require new generating plants by 2010. What continues to be overlooked is the use of renewable energies to meet a major portion of the insatiable needs of urban electricity users.

This scenario has now changed. With the recent adoption of a renewable energy portfolio by the Arizona Corporation Commission, 15 percent of the state's total energy production must come from renewable energy resources by 2025.

SRP, although not a publicly regulated company, has voluntarily adopted a similar goal to "provide 15 percent of retail energy sales through sustainable resources by 2025."

The major obstacle is lack of infrastructure to get the electricity to market. New transmission lines and substations will have to be built. SRP has the money; their goal is to invest $4.8 billion into their capital program within six years.

And Hopis and Navajos can get a share of the money Mohave co-owners will be getting from the sale of sulfur dioxide credits, if our tribal leaders support the "Just Transition" petition developed by Grand Canyon Trust and supported by many local environmental organizations and the Southern California Edison rate payers. A former cabinet secretary for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and now a top advisor to the Western Governors Association on global warming, is supporting a proposal to build solar generating capacity on Black Mesa. Our Governor Janet Napolitano observed, "One hour of sunshine falling on just six square miles on a sunny day can power the entire state for a full day."

The new scenario is a win-win for utilities, the Arizona Corporation Commission, Hopi and Navajo people, and the general public who favor clean renewable energy. Black Mesa Trust proposed a plan several years ago to have Hopi and Navajo construct a 1000 megawatt solar plant on tribal lands to provide day-time solar power for 650,000 homes, generate over 250 permanent jobs, provide substantial annual revenues for the two tribes, and add hundreds more construction and manufacturing jobs.

This is a win-win opportunity for all Arizonans and utilities to join in producing needed reliable power while at the same time helping to reduce the devastating impacts of global warming on planet Earth.

The Hopi people were taught to use their minds, hands and ability to communicate to create things they need, but to do it in the right way. Using coal and water to make electricity using conventional technology is the worst way, though perhaps new technology will one day be developed to burn coal without harming the environment and the health of the people. For now, though, using solar energy to produce electricity is the right way, and it is sustainable for decades to come.


Vernon Masayesva

Executive Director

Black Mesa Trust

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