The recent announcement from Salt River Project that the Navajo Generating Station coal-fired power plant near Page, AZ will be shutting down come 2019, if not sooner, is being received with conflicting reactions. Salt River Project operates the plant and owns it along with several utility companies and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The company has decided to shut down the plant when its lease ends in December 2019 due to increasing expenses as the price of coal power has plummeted nationally.
For environmentalists fighting to encourage the country to transition away from the fossil fuel industry, this news comes as a victory. The Navajo Generating Station is one of the biggest polluters in the nation; in 2015 the plant was third on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of major carbon-emitting facilities, emitting 20 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year.
Yet from the other side of the equation, the plant means jobs. And the closing of the plant means the loss of jobs. The plant employs many people from Navajo and Hopi tribes; The closure will affect about 430 workers at the plant as well as another 325 at Peabody's Kayenta Mine 80 miles away. Both the Navajo and Hopi tribes also receive millions of dollars in mine royalties each year that support tribal operations. Losing that will be a bit hit for all involved.
Deputy General Manager Mike Hummel of Salt River Project, an owner and the plant's operator, broke the news to plant employees Monday. "Obviously it is a difficult announcement to make, but a lot more difficult of an announcement to hear, and we are understanding of that," he said. "Our focus now is to take whatever steps we can take to keep the plant running through 2019."
“The utility owners do not make this decision lightly,” said Hummel. “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,” he added in a statement. “However, [its owners have] an obligation to provide low-cost service to our more than 1 million customers, and the higher cost of operating NGS would be borne by our customers.”
Negotiations are currently in process to reach an agreement with the Navajo Nation to extend operations of the plant. Such an agreement would secure employment for three years and provide a safeguard that the Navajo and Hopi tribes would continue to receive the mining royalties. It also provides the Nation or others with the option to operate the plant beyond 2019, according to The Washington Post.
David Palumbo, Deputy Commissioner of Operations for the Bureau of Reclamation said the “Department of the Interior’s preferred path is to explore ways in which the plant could operate economically post-2019. We recognize that NGS is an economic driver throughout the state of Arizona, both for local economic activity and Native American employment near the facility... Before discussing the possibility of a permanent shutdown, we would like to see if we can find a path forward that meets the needs of multiple NGS stakeholders.”