Navajo Generating Station shuts down permanently
Navajo groups call for a return to Diné Fundamental Law and values
Flagstaff, Ariz. — As Navajo Generating Station burned the last of its coal and officially closed Nov. 18, Navajo grassroots groups issued a call for the Navajo Nation to return to honoring Diné Fundamental Law and values in energy policy decisions.
Salt River Project announced NGS closed Nov. 18 as it permanently shut down all three units at the generating station.
The owners decided in February 2017 that they would no longer own or operate the 2,250 megawatt plant beyond Dec. 22, 2019.
The owners of NGS include SRP, Arizona Public Service Co., NV Energy and Tucson Electric Power. In addition, the United States is a participant in NGS.
"NGS will always be remembered as a coal-fired workhorse whose employees made it one of the safest and most reliable power plants in the nation," said SRP CEO and General Manager Mike Hummel in a press release. "After more than 40 years of generating electricity for millions across the West, NGS — and its employees — are one reason why this region, the state of Arizona and the Phoenix metropolitan area have been able to grow and thrive."
But grassroots groups have said for years that the generating station has not been a positive factor on either the Navajo or the Hopi reservations, despite its economic value.
“Power lines were built over communities on Navajo land, taking electricity and water to cities across the Southwest, while thousands in the Navajo Nation remained with no electricity access or water,” said Marie Gladue of Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC). “We need to heal from the wrongs of the past by returning to Diné traditional law and prioritizing energy and water management policies that are in line with our values and virtues as stewards of the natural world.”
The grassroots groups — Diné CARE, Tó Nizhóní Ání, and Black Mesa Water Coalition — will track progress on the transition and clean-up efforts and urge Navajo Nation leaders to take swift action on issues such as sustainability and prioritizing local communities.
“Our nation faces a defining moment after decades of relying on a coal industry that devastated our natural resources. We are resilient people, and we must now come together to heal our families and our land and work towards a just transition that is in line with Diné Fundamental Law,” said Percy Deal, who lives south of the Peabody coal mine in Black Mesa.
Under an initiative called Navajo Equitable Economy, https://www.navajoequitableeconomy.org/, the groups want to also ensure water used to mine and burn coal for the last 50 years is returned to the Nation and prioritize the development of projects that are sustainable and have benefits for Navajo communities.
“The closing of NGS represents an opportunity to right the longstanding wrongs on water that our people have suffered as a result of coal operations,” said Carol Davis, of Diné C.A.R.E. “Decades of coal strip-mining on Black Mesa depleted the N-Aquifer and many families have remained without running water. We must see that the water is returned to our people and that a full reclamation of the N-Aquifer is carried out.”
But first, the groups are calling for healing.
“Navajo communities have borne the brunt of fossil fuel extraction and unsustainable corporate practices resulting in the devastation and pollution of our Diné homeland, including the habitats of our plant and animal relatives and our precious natural resources,” Navajo Equitable Economy’s website reads.
SRP said under the 35-year extension lease, the NGS owners will make lease payments totaling $110 million to the Navajo Nation that will allow continued access to the site for decommissioning, long-term monitoring and ongoing operation of the transmission systems.
“Working with SRP, a number of U.S.-based contractors will conduct demolition and reclamation responsibilities at the plant site, including disassembling the power block, removing the catenary electrical system that powered the coal-carrying rail cars and addressing cleanup and restoration,” the SRP press release said.
SRP estimates decommissioning the plant will take three years to complete at a cost of $150 million to the NGS owners.
SRP said the Navajo Nation elected to retain a number of facilities at the plant, including the warehouse and maintenance buildings, lake pump system and railroad. SRP said the estimated value of those are $18 million.
“The federal government has pledged to provide 500 megawatts of transmission capacity from the NGS transmission station that is valued at more than $80 million,” SRP said.
SRP said it also is working with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority toward the development of renewable energy projects within the Navajo Nation.
“As coal markets end and local power plants and mines close, we stand to benefit from the development of clean energy projects and from an economic transition that prioritizes local community voices,” said Nicole Horseherder of Tó Nizhóní Ání. "But we need support from those that profited for decades from the use of Navajo natural resources. That means that federal and state government agencies, NGS owners, and Peabody Energy all have a responsibility to support the Navajo Nation in the restructuring of its economy.”
SRP said it offered new positions within the company to 433 regular NGS employees.
“With operations concluded at the plant, nearly 300 accepted offers for redeployment to other SRP positions,” SRP said.
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