As a result of the imminent closing of the Navajo Generating Station coal power plant, which will see its last days at the end of 2019, the Navajo Nation is investing in solar. The nation recently started operating the Kayenta Solar Project, a 27.3-megawatt farm in northeastern Arizona, with the expectation that the project will provide electricity to 7,700 homes on the reservation.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the tribe’s first-ever large-scale renewable energy project will act to benefit the lives of the members of the nation. The coal plant shutting down is “forcing us to make a huge paradigm shift,” Begaye said. “I’m getting our nation ready to make this transition.” The 27,000 square-mile reservation is home to 200,000 people. This solar project will provide electricity to some of those homes for the first time.
Solar farm project manager Glenn Steiger said the end of the Navajo Generating Station leaves a hole in power generation for the area, which will be filled with renewable energy sources, both solar and wind. The farm, which covers 200 acres, has solar panels that are specially made to lay flat when wind speeds increase to more than 50 miles per hour. There are also two weather stations on site to monitor wind speed, temperature and humidity, says Steiger.
But the switch isn’t just about going green; it also aims to minimize some of the blow of job loss from the closing of the Navajo Generating Station, which currently employs more than 700 people, 90% of whom are Native American. While the farm was being constructed, an estimated 100 local construction jobs and subcontracting opportunities were carried out by Navajo members. The Nation also hopes to completely take over the management of the farm.