Navajo Nation Finds Potential Owner for Doomed Coal Plant

The Navajo Generating Station
The Navajo Generating Station
Photo: Cathy (Flickr)

The embattled Navajo Generating Station in Arizona might, indeed, make it past 2019.

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The coal-fired power plant is slated to close come the end of that year, after its owners decided their money would be better spent elsewhere (like on natural gas). However, leaders of the Navajo Nation, which is rooting for the plant to stay open and keep their members employed, have found a buyer, according to the Associated Press. The tribe is currently negotiating with Avenue Capital, an investment firm based in New York, to purchase the power plant while having its subsidiary, Middle River Power, operate it. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye told government representatives Monday the tribe is working on finalizing an agreement by October, per the AP.

This development could actually keep the largest coal plant in the West open. Especially since the Kayenta Mine, which supplies the plant, plans to stay open too: A key federal permit isn’t up until July 2020. Some environmental groups have taken issue with that, suing the Department of Interior in June to begin cleaning up the mine.

The situation for the Navajo Generating Station hasn’t looked too good up until now. The plant’s main customer, the Central Arizona Project (CAP), which distributes water throughout the state, is looking to replace this key power source with solar. The Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe—both of whose members are employed heavily by both the Kayenta Mine and Navajo Generating Station—have gotten so desperate that they’ve approached Congress a number of times asking them to intervene.

Who can blame them? President Donald Trump promised a future for coal. In June, the Department of Interior was looking into whether it should apply pressure to CAP to purchase its energy from the station. Still no news whether that’s happening, but as this latest development shows, the tribal nations are actively pursuing other options for keeping the plant open.

Their economies are on the line. Eighty percent of the Hopi Tribe’s general budget comes from coal with individual salaries ranging in the $100,000s. Despite the negative health and environmental impacts of the coal power plant, money talks. Sigh.

[h/t Associated Press]

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Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

DISCUSSION

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Navajo should restart uranium mining on the reservation. Trump is planning on putting tariffs on imported yellow cake.

U.S. Plans Uranium Import Probe That May Lead to Tariffs

This could spur domestic uranium mining. Maybe the shuttered mines on navajo nation lands have some play left. The Bears Ears has shitloads of uranium, too. Add yellow cake processing on the reservation, too for value addition. Hell, add uranium hexafluoride fuel rods manufacturing, too. The plant in Illinois for fuel rods is getting old. Move operations to the indians. And why not a nuclear power plant right next to the coal plant? Fuck me, add spent fuel rods interim storage on the reservation. Do a deal between the US government and the navajos. Outlays to BIA funding could be cut in exchange for coal and nuclear. Sort of a privatization scheme. 

This is a perfect opportunity for environmental justice (EJ) communicators. Lots of trouble industries like coal and nuclear could use some image and marketing help. And they’ll pay big bucks for stories on sad sacks getting less fucked over with operations continuing versus not continuing. Nuclear power at least has a climate change mitigation component. Coal is kind of a fucking mess regardless of the miners and operators skin color so that will be a hard turd to polish for EJ mavens.

Jesus Christ, having worked in the environmental business for so long I’ve become pretty numb to the intersectionality bullshit between environmentalism and image/marketing. It’s kind of why we’re in the state we’re in and probably won’t back out of the mess. EJ’s goal seems to be to make the whole planet fucked up so we’re all even steven. Crabs in a barrel.