Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Tue, Dec. 07

Guest column: Decommissioning of Navajo Generating Station underway

The coal-fired plant has operated out of Page, Arizona since January 19, 1971. (Photos/Stock)

The coal-fired plant has operated out of Page, Arizona since January 19, 1971. (Photos/Stock)

As we began 2020, the first of the four-phase decommissioning process of Navajo Generating Station was under way and on schedule. 

In November, we ended power production and the last of our NGS team members either redeployed to other Salt River Project facilities or retired. 

Throughout 2019, we had many emotional farewell and retirement parties as workers left one-by-one or in groups. As tough as you might imagine power plant workers to be, some declined their farewells because of the emotional bonds that developed among colleagues, and from caring for and running this huge machine throughout its life, knowing that they were among the last to do so. 

For the past two years, O&M Supervisor IV Mike Hull created the massive, detailed decommissioning plan from scratch. On a daily basis, Mike meets with the SRP Site Services team and contractors to review what percentage of the work is finished and what needs to be done. Already, hundreds of items are complete on our checklist of thousands of tasks.

For a year, SRP Senior Business Analyst Kelly May of Investment Recovery has inventoried the pieces, parts, tools, desks, computers, vehicles, machines and equipment that ran NGS. She has listed items of value that can be sold, auctioned or donated to local non-profit organizations. Some items, such as the remaining bulk oil, will be sold to other facilities that can use it. 

The first thing scheduled for removal is the catenary that powered our railroad. Poles have been removed on-site and work has begun down the 78 miles of track to the Peabody Kayenta Coal Mine. 

In December, we activated our “DDDR” plan to de-energize, decontaminate, demolish NGS and reclaim the plant site. The  17-member Site Service team leading this work are SRP employees from our Operations, Maintenance, Engineering, Environmental & Safety departments, SRP Investment Recovery and our decommissioning program manager, Tetra Tech. 

De-energizing NGS involves “air-gapping.” This means sections of wires, cables and pipes are physically cut and removed so no electrical, air, steam or water connection remains. This is a safety precaution. Once an area is air-gapped, clearance tags are hung so the workers who come in next for the demolition phase know the environment is safe to work. This will continue until April 1.

Draining the plant of all water, fluids, lubricants and chemicals is under way. With the freezing weather of December and January, this has been trickier than just opening a few valves. Without the pressures and heat a power plant produces, water in tanks and lines freezes, adding an element of difficulty. NGS consists of thousands of pipes that carried water or steam. Although nothing is seen coming from our stacks anymore, our cooling towers continue to evaporate the last of the water in the system.

We have begun to remove regulated and hazardous materials under the supervision of environmental and safety consultants. These are former longtime NGS employees who worked in those same jobs. This work is expected to take six to nine months. 

Once de-energizing and decontamination is complete, we will safely turn the plant over to Tetra Tech to proceed with the demolition phase. 

When demolition begins, cutting tools will slice through metal. Demolition experts will bring down the three 775-foot stacks and the massive boilers. Heavy equipment will lift, sort, stockpile and place mountains of materials into trucks for recycling for at least three years. There will be digging, hauling and excavating. To complete a job like this, communication is critical and planning is essential. 

For decades, NGS had its own nurse, fire department, ambulance, Emergency Medical Technicians and Emergency Response Team on site from among our employees. No longer. So in December, we held an Emergency Responder coordination meeting with Page first responders to define roles in the event of a medical emergency. 

Page Fire Chief Jeff Reed, Guardian Air’s Tony Garrozzio, Classic Air Medical’s Brad Hawker, Danny Barney of Sacred Mountain Medical Service and several of their staff met with us to discuss how to handle an emergency should it arise. Sacred Mountain, which serves the Navajo Nation, has been employed to provide paramedic services utilizing their own ambulance and staff on site..

Emergency phone numbers have been distributed, radios have been issued, fire extinguishers have been tested and AEDs have been located throughout the plant site. 

Our security service is still onsite monitoring who is coming through the gate. Contract workers arriving at NGS receive a safety orientation to know how to work onsite safely and what number to call in an emergency. 

Finally, people continue to ask when our three iconic stacks will come down. That’s not expected until November and a lot of work needs to happen to prepare for that. In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep you informed as decommissioning continues. 

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