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SRP concerned with future of Navajo generating station

PHOENIX — The future of a power generating station that would contribute billions to the Navajo Nation’s economy is in doubt.

The EPA has proposed additional and costly environmental rules to address regional visibility and the possible $1.1 billion price tag could threaten the Navajo Generating Station’s future. Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Tucson Electric Power Co., NV Energy and the Bureau of Reclamation would share the cost for upgrades to meet federal standards at the generating station.

“There are environmentalists and people who live on the Navajo Nation who oppose coal-generated facilities in general,” said Scott Harelson with SRP. “Others have issues with water rights and prefer renewable energy sources over fossil fuels. But we believe very strongly that a majority of the people on the Navajo Nation agree that the benefits of the generating station outweigh the opposition when it comes to jobs and economic benefits.”

Harelson said the possible closure of the plant in 2019 would have a huge impact on millions of people when it comes to power and water.

“If the plant ceases operation in 2019, we would have to find a substitute for that resource. The NGS runs 24/7, 365 days per year. It would not be cheap to find a replacement. Another major concern is the plant is essentially the sole supplier of electricity to the Central Arizona Project and a replacement source of electricity would have to be found to move water from the Colorado River through Arizona and that would be far more expensive.”

According to a study prepared for the Navajo Nation and Salt River Project by the L. William Seidman Research Institute at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, the station, located near Page, Ariz., will pump almost $13 billion into the Navajo economy between 2020 through 2044, but only if the plant keeps operating beyond 2019.

The power plant is one of the largest suppliers of electricity in the southwest and, between the plant and the Kayenta Coal Mine, more than 1,000 people are employed, 90 percent of which are Native American.

The plant’s lease and various rights of way with the Navajo Nation are set to expire in 2019 and the Navajo Nation Council is currently considering legislation to extend them. In addition, the plant’s owners are also renegotiating the coal supply contract with Peabody Energy.

There’s no timetable for when the Navajo Nation will make its decision on the plant’s future.