After decades of activism, the Navajo coal plant has been demolished

Three 775-foot smokestacks at the West’s largest coal plant – the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station (NGS), were demolished on December 18, ending coal dominance in an area where renewable energy sources such as wind and solar have disappeared. . Cheap.

The majority of owners and operators of the Salt River Project (SRP), NGS, decided to close the plant in 2017 due to rising operating costs. “Natural gas prices have been low for a long time and are much lower than coal,” SRP spokesman Scott Harrelson told me. So the plant went out of the market.

The move to shut down the coal plant was a blow to the U.S. And renewable energy is part of a wider shift across the globe. According to a report by the International Energy Agency, the renewable power-generating coronavirus epidemic will grow by about 7% in 2020, despite economic weakness. The shift has been fueled by concerns about climate change Questions about the potential health effects of fossil fuels.

For more than four decades, the station on the Arizona-Utah border has been a crucial local employer, employing more than 800 Indigenous people who paid far more than the area average. Harelson said 90 percent of the plant’s employees were newcomers.

The station officially closed in November 2019 once its remaining coal supply burned out. The Kanta mine, which fed the plant, closed in August 2019 as it had no customers other than NGS. Jobs there also paid well: the average salary per worker was 7 117,000.

But for many of the region’s Navajo and Hopi tribes, those wages also came with higher prices. Critics of the facility have called its environmental costs a problem – at one point it was a U.S. In emitted more greenhouse gases at a dynamic rate than almost any other facility – and claimed that it polluted the land and water used by Navajo pastoralists and farmers.

In a statement on Friday, members of organizations representing the Navajo and Hopi tribes welcomed the racing, While acknowledging that the plant has brought some economic benefits to their communities.

“Breaking the smoke est stacks at NGS is a proud event,” said Nicole Horsesherd, executive director of Navajo Environment. Trinamool group Tó Nizhóní Ání. “It is reminiscent of decades of exploitation of Navajo and Hopi subsidized by cheap coal and water.”

In particular, Horseshardt argued that the economic benefits are contaminating coal miners and the soil with polluted water, which has caused respiratory illnesses. The statement also said that many Navajo and Hopi were unable to take part in the electricity and water generated by the plant – much of which went to nearby Phoenix, Arizona.

But now that the station has been demolished, some Navajo and Hopi members are hoping for a stronger future without a coal plant.

“We hope this continues our transformation into a sustainable economy built on the basic Navajo and Hopi respect for air, land and water,” Carol Davis, executive director of Navajo’s bottom group Dina Care, said in a statement. And it will bring direct, measurable benefits to our communities, not their exploitation. ”

A massive clean-up operation has begun

Now that the smokers are gone, the land occupied by the facility will be handed over to the Navajo Nation – but, first, the SRP will have to complete a complex and costly process of clearing the rest of the plant structure and returning the land to its original condition. .

Harelson said that, as everyone said, there are about 150 million attempts to remove the infrastructure that the Navajo nation does not want to keep. “The warehouse, the admin building, the railroad, the lake pump, those facilities, will remain and will become the property of the Navajo nation.”

There is also chemical cleaning to be done – toxic compounds like coal ash need to be removed. “All hazardous chemicals must be removed and disposed of properly. And there is a comprehensive recovery project to get the project back to its original state, ”Harels said.

The SRP has promised to do this “according to rules and safety”, but some activists are concerned that there has been too little transparency about what standards the company adheres to.

“We need to tell communities about the toxins that are there,” said Kim Smith, a day-to-day civil scientist. “Smokers are going down, because there is this mirage that everything is going well, we will get what we have left, that the land that was there is returning.”

Smith’s comment is a reminder that trust in SRP is not universal, as the company has broken previous promises with the original community.

Casey Scott, for example, told the Associated Press that his grandmother allowed him to use part of his land to build a plant in exchange for electricity. However, Scott said, that power never came, and she died in 2013 without him.

“Even though the plant generates a large amount of electricity, many homes on the Navajo reservation had a lack of electricity despite the plant’s proximity,” Michael Hayet, a staff attorney for the environmental law firm Earth Sis, told me. In 2019, the NPR estimated that 10 per cent of people in the Navajo reservation live without electricity.

Activists have said they plan to look into the restoration process carefully.

“If the utilities do not follow the letter of the law and do not clean or work on an immediate basis, we will bring whatever legal challenges or pressure we bring to make sure it is cleaned.”

Cleaning of the plant is expected to be completed by 2023 – and the mine will also need renovations. According to the Saadhan Parishad, a Western organization of the environmental advocacy group, that work could employ many of those who do not work in energy production, but still have work to do.