Clean energy produced on Navajo land could help power Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – In a city renowned for its green policies, Prius drivers and biodegradable straws, it was only a matter of time before officials would vote to move away from coal powered electricity.

To transition to clean energy, the city sold its shares of a coal-powered generating station on the Navajo Nation in 2016, ending a decades-long relationship.

What seemed like a bright new sustainable future for Los Angeles presented a harsh reality for the tribe, whose members relied on jobs at the Navajo Generating Station, which shut down completely in November. The generating station near Page contributed $51 million a year to northern Arizona and southern Utah.

Last month, the Los Angeles City Council voted to explore ways to continue that energy partnership without funding a generating station that once was the third largest carbon emitter in the U.S. If deemed feasible after a 30-day evaluation, renewable energy soon will travel from the reservation to Southern California. The motion was passed and finalized by Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“We’re talking about solar energy, wind energy, in other words, completely transitioning from coal into renewable resources,” said Mitch O’Farrell, the City Council member who presented the motion. O’Farrell, who is the first member of the council to belong to a federally recognized tribe – the Wyandotte Nation – said he wore a beaded bolo tie for the occasion.

Los Angeles needs other sources of renewable energy to reach the goals outlined in the 2019 Green New Deal, which aims to make the city 55% dependent on renewable energy by 2025 and fully dependent on renewables by 2045, O’Farrell said.

His proposal also acknowledges the economic hardship the Navajo Nation faces with the closure of the generating station, where 90% of the 433 employees were Navajo. The generating station officially closed on Nov. 18, which also negatively affected coal-mining operations on the reservation.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan and his administration made the trip to Los Angeles to advocate for continued energy partnerships at the city council meeting on Feb. 19. (Photo by Sarah Donahue/Cronkite News)

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, who attended the LA council meeting approving the proposal, hopes it will compensate for an estimated $30-50 million revenue loss for the tribe.

“We are resilient people,” Nez told the council. “We want to be the leaders in renewable energy in Indian Country.”

The continued partnership would bring wind and solar powered energy to Los Angeles while fostering economic development for the Navajo Nation, the motion states.

“This is a win-win for everyone,” Nez said.

The council’s unanimous vote started the process of a 30-day feasibility study by Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power that will evaluate potential costs and benefits for electricity ratepayers.

It’s likely to be cost-effective for Angelenos, O’Farrell said, as LA’s Department of Water and Power still has ownership of the transmission lines linking the reservation and the city.

“The idea is to continue that partnership, but it would be directly between the Navajo Nation and LA for the continued use of those lines,” said Nicole Horseherder, executive director of Tó Nizhóní Ání’, a grassroots organization that advocates for environmental protections and responsible use of natural resources of the Black Mesa area on the reservation.

“The only difference would be that it would be Navajo renewable energy power that would be put on those transmission lines,” she said.

The Navajo Generating Station

The 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station a few miles east of Page began producing electricity in the 1970s. Its owners ended operations in November because the plant was deemed no longer economically viable.

The generating station and the Kayenta Mine that fed it coal contributed nearly $1.3 billion to the Navajo and Hopi economies since 1987, according to data from Coconino County.

The mine, which is adjacent to Hopi and Navajo land in northeastern Arizona, and the generating station were part of a “mine-to-mouth” operation. The coal traveled from the mine to the generating station 78 miles away via train to produce power for California, Arizona and Nevada.

Without the need for coal, the mine closed, too, as the generating station was its only customer.

The costly nature of coal led to the plant’s closure, according to Scott Harelson, spokesman for the Salt River Project, one of Arizona’s biggest utility companies. SRP has partial ownership of the generating station along with Tucson Electric Power and NV Energy.

LA’s Department of Water and Power had been a shareholder until it sold its 21.2% ownership to SRP in July 2016 to move toward clean energy.

In 2017, all the utility owners voted to shut down the generating station.

The representitaves of the Navajo Nations attended the Los Angeles City Council meeting on Feb. 19 to advocate for Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s motion to bring renewable Navajo energy to the city. (Photo by Sarah Donahue/Cronkite News)

Loss for the Navajo Nation

There has been a long relationship between Los Angeles and the Navajo Nation, Nez told Cronkite News, and the new agreement would allow that partnership to last “rather than going different ways with bad – I don’t know if I should say it – bad blood.”
Not even a year’s notice was given before the power plant closed, Nez said, and it closed weeks earlier than expected.

“We didn’t know what to do,” Nez said. “There was no transition time.”
In the first fiscal year after the closures of the plant and mine, the Navajo Nation expects income losses of about $40 million – a 23% drop, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

“There are members of the Navajo Nation who would have preferred to see the plant operate because of the well-paying jobs, including the Hopi Nation who relied heavily on the earnings from the Kayenta Coal Mine,” the SRP’s Harelson said. The average salary for workers ranged from $70,000 to $74,000, according to data from Coconino County.

SRP offered new jobs to all 433 of their plant workers, Harelson said. Of those 433 plant workers, 12 stayed in the area to decommission the generating station and 284 redeployed to other energy projects across Arizona.

Nez said that has spurred a migration from Page as former plant workers move elsewhere.
Beyond jobs, people across the reservation are struggling to stay warm during the winter.
“With the closure of the plant and the mine, people have not been able to access basic heating resources,” Horseherder said.

Martin Pasqualetti, professor at Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, said he has taken students on field trips to the Kayenta Mine and generating station since the ’70s.

While this operation brought in significant amounts of money for the Navajo, “anybody who was paying attention would know that these power plants don’t last forever,” he said, noting the high cost of implementing proper emission-control standards.

Pasqualetti wasn’t aware of the negotiations between LA and the Navajo Nation, but he said the tribe is always looking for markets for electricity.

“The bottom line is they are trying to find jobs and trying to find substitutions for the powerplant,” he said.

A future in clean energy

“Right now, throughout the world, we’re not taking care of our lands,” Nez said. “So there is some traditional knowledge that we can incorporate in this type of transition.”

The Navajo Nation has two solar energy projects generating 55 megawatts of clean energy, Nez said, generating revenue and providing electricity for Navajos with plans to expand further.

The 127-megawatt Dry Lake Wind Power Project has been operational since 2009 and plans for a new 477-megawatt wind farm were approved in December by The Navajo County board of supervisors.

The best way to take care of Navajo lands, he said, is to utilize what the creator has provided: wind and sunlight. California’s demand for clean energy presents an opportunity for the Navajo to continue their relationship, he added.

“We’re not talking about a handout,” Nez said. “We’re talking about a hand up with all the partners in the Southwest who are wanting to purchase renewable energy.”

Sygourney Longknife Williams, Cheyenne L.E. Phoenix and Maya Sanchez, attended the Los Angeles City Council meeting on Feb. 19 to support the motion for Navajo clean energy. (Photo by Sarah Donahue/Cronkite News)

O’Farrell said Los Angeles’ attitude on sustainability and its ability to influence is its “badge of honor.” Contributing to the renewable movement and thinking outside the city limits hopefully will play an outside role in slowing the effects of climate change, he said.

“I hope that we’re entering into a new age of enlightenment,” O’Farrell said. “Because it’s going to take everyone everywhere to pull together to slow the effects of climate change.”

The Navajo people and reservation have been “overlooked for a very long time,” he said, adding that a continued partnership with Los Angeles would help the tribe take another step toward self-determination and self-sufficiency.

Nez predicted “a great future for both LA, the (Navajo) Nation and the globe as a whole.”

The Navajo government and people, he said, “cannot view ourselves as victims.”

Although Native Americans were almost completely obliterated after Europeans arrived in the New World, “we are still here.”

Looking to the future and creating a plan to succeed despite hardships faced in the past, Nez said, is the “best revenge.”

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

As Plant Faces Closure, New Mexico City Weighs Bet on Clean Coal Technology

FARMINGTON, N.M. – Nestled in the heart of San Juan County, Farmington has a population of about 45,000, making it a bustling hub in rural northwestern New Mexico. It is the largest city for hundreds of miles, and its major highway is a two-lane road. Bordering the Navajo Nation, Farmington is also home to abundant natural beauty, cultural diversity and an economy that has stably rested on two major coal-based employers.

That once-solid economic base is shakier all the time. San Juan County houses two predominantly coal-fired power plants, the San Juan Generating Station (SJGS) and the Four Corners Generating Station. While the oil and gas industry has undergone cyclical booms and busts in the region, coal has been the steady economic foundation for decades.

Then, on March 22, 2019, New Mexico’s governor, the Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, signed the Energy Transition Act into law. It requires the state’s utilities to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2045. To meet the new standard, the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), the majority owner of the San Juan Generating Station, plans to shut down the plant as it moves away from coal.

Next to the electric power station is the San Juan coal mine, which exclusively provides coal to the plant. At its peak, the mine sent over 7 million tons a year to the plant. (Photo by Vladimir Choloupka for …& The West)

According to the utility, the San Juan station will likely close its doors in three years’ time. The loss of the station will be mean much more to the community than the 497 megawatts of electricity it generates: the plant provides jobs directly and indirectly to about 1,600 workers, some 27 percent of them from the Navajo Nation.

The announcement about the pending closure of the plant — and the dramatic loss of work in the nearby mine that supplies its coal — is a clear sign of the trend away from coal in the greater Four Corners region. Arizona’s Navajo Generating Station is slated to retire in 2019, the Four Corners plant in 2031, the Magna, Utah plant in 2025, and the Nucla, Colorado plant in 2022.

Arizona’s Navajo Generating Station is slated to retire in 2019, the Four Corners plant in 2031, the Magna, Utah plant in 2025, and the Nucla, Colorado plant in 2022. (Map by Bill Lane Center for the American West)

The backdrop of this trend is the upside-down economics of coal plants, which were once cheaper than most rival energy sources. But that advantage has been largely nullified by the rise of natural gas, now plentiful since the advent of fracking, and the more recent price decreases spurring the rise of renewables like solar and wind power. The economics are powerful, but so is the specter of climate change, which is exacerbated by the tons of carbon dioxide emitted by power plants burning coal.

San Juan station is the largest source of air pollution in the state, releasing over 13 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. It is also expensive to maintain and can no longer produce energy at competitive prices.

Farmington’s leadership is pushing for the adoption of carbon-capture technology at the plant in hopes to keep it running by giving it something else to sell. If that does not work and the plant closes, a drastic change is looming for San Juan County’s way of life. It will, disproportionately affect tribal members.

A PNM representative said, “these power plants are an important part of their local communities. That is why the Energy Transition Act provides for not only a transition plan for the workers but also $20 million for the local community.” These funds will be used for workforce retraining, economic development, and will support the department focused on Indian affairs.

A Tear in the Fabric of Farmington’s Life

Timothy Kienitz, left, is principal of Farmington High School. (Photos by Vladimir Choloupka for …& The West)

“It’s become part of the fabric and the culture of not only Farmington but also the Navajo reservation,” Timothy Kienitz, principal of Farmington High School, said of the plant. Bordering the reservation to the West, Navajos make up 41 percent of the high school’s student body. “There are generations of families who have worked at the plant and they see that as a source of pride. If that goes away, then all of a sudden you take away that self-sufficiency,” Kienitz said.

A foreshadowing of how plant closures could affect the city came when two of SJGS’s four coal-fired generators were retired in 2017. “We did see a higher number of free and reduced lunches.” Kienitz said. Now, 52 percent of his students receive free or reduced-price lunch.

The San Juan Mine is the sole provider of coal for SJGS, so each enterprise is the lifeblood of the other. Bob Green, a supervisor at the mine for more than 17 years, was one of its first hires when it opened in 2000. “The mine provided the coal to the power plant for two million customers and 80 percent of the electricity that PNM supplied. We needed to mine about 6.5 to 7 million tons a year to supply the power plant. When all four units were running it burned about 9,500 tons per day,” Green said.

Jerry Benally is a heavy equipment operator at the mine and a member of the Navajo Nation. (Photo by Danielle Nguyen/…& The West)

Green added that working at the mine created a sense of camaraderie, a closely-bound community that would be unrooted if employees had to find a job far away. “Mining is inherently difficult, with changing conditions and changing weather,” Green said. “You pull together and you take pride in that. You become family as important as your own family at home.”

“We’re all like brothers and sisters here,” said Kenny Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation and a heavy equipment operator at the mine. “It’s been 10 hours out of the day with one another so we all get along.”

According to PNM, about 27 percent of its employees at the generating station are Navajo. On the Navajo Nation, 43 percent of residents live below the poverty line. “The Navajo Nation has an unemployment rate of almost 50 percent, and we are going to add to that,” said Mike Stark, San Juan’s county manager.

“It’s really going to take a hit on the Navajo Nation,” said Kenny Benally. “It’s going to be hard for everybody on and off the reservation.”

Frank Maisano, a senior principal at Bracewell, said, “It would be a ding on the Four Corners region, but it would really hurt the Navajo people. These are skilled labor union jobs that pay well and if they go away it will hurt people that can least afford it.”

In many households on the reservation, multiple generations live together. “In many cases it may be one person who works at that power plant or in that mine who is not just taking care of their family but also taking care of extended family,” said Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett. “If saving the world means that we have to kill humans to do it, then I don’t know if I want to save the world.”

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Employees would not be the only ones affected by the closure of the plant and mine. The whole city of Farmington would face a wrenching adjustment. A study commissioned by Four Corners Economic Development last year estimated that closing the plant would lead to more than $105 million in lost wages. As Bob Green explained, “A lot of these highly-paid people have brought in things to the community that we wouldn’t normally have.” Green’s wife works at the medical facility in Farmington.

“The mine and power plant workers go to Farmington and buy a lot,” Kenny Benally added.

If the plant closes, many of the county’s longtime residents may be forced to move away, finding it harder to support their families. “Most of the people that work at the mine are high school graduates. Those people can make really good money. A starting person could make upwards of $65,000 a year,” Green said. “This game is political, legislative, public sentiment and economic. Things out of their control. And time is running out.”

Jerry Benally, another heavy equipment operator at the mine and a member of the Navajo Nation, is already looking for jobs. Without a college degree, it is difficult to find one that pays as well as the mine. Only seven percent of Navajo Nation members have a college degree. “There are jobs out there, but they are minimum wage, up to maybe $20 an hour if you’re lucky,” he said. “I already told my wife to plan on it shutting down in 2022.”

New Futures Without the Generating Station — or Maybe With It

Lake Farmington is a popular swimming and boating spot. (Photo by Vladimir Choloupka for …& The West)

One possible future sees Farmington as a depopulated ghost town. But depending on changes in circumstances and the adaptability of residents, other futures may await.

Moving forward, northwest New Mexico has potential for renewable energy development as well as outdoor recreation. A new water park, Brookside Bay, is already under construction.

Another possibility for the town is supported by Farmington’s leaders: keeping the San Juan Generating Station open by capturing and storing its abundant carbon emissions underground.

“A lot of those in the legislature say we are pro-coal, anti-renewable,” said County Manager Mike Stark. “The reality is that we want to hang on to those good-paying jobs and tax revenues as long as we can.”

Supporters say this technology, called carbon capture and sequestration, can offset 90 percent of the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions. As proof of the seriousness of this effort, city leaders have announced an agreement for the San Juan plant to be purchased by Enchant Energy, a subsidiary of the venture capital firm Acme Equities.

“I’m just going to ride it out ’til the end, until the last day.” Kenny Benally, a heavy equipment operator. (Photo by Danielle Nguyen/…& The West)

Enchant plans to operate the coal plant while installing the carbon capture technology. Once collected, the company says, the carbon dioxide can then be used for enhanced oil recovery, a process where compressed carbon is piped into older wells to dislodge oil. Industrial plants in the United States capture 65 million tons of carbon each year, 60 million of which is used for enhanced oil recovery. Companies that store carbon by injecting it into the earth can also receive up to $50 per ton in tax credits.

Jason Selch, co-founder of Acme Equities, said, “The plant emits about 6.6 million tons, and we are going to reduce emissions by 6 million tons by putting in CCS. All the cars in New Mexico emit 3 million tons total. It is taking something that is a bad thing and changing it into a good thing.”

Nathan Welch, a postdoctoral researcher at Los Alamos National Labs, said that CCS is actively being researched by numerous groups at Los Alamos National Lab. “My group alone has many projects running from exploring better engineering of CO2 injection wellbores, the pipes used to deliver CO2 to the subsurface, along with studies on rock behavior, all the way to advancing acoustic monitoring of wells to better detect if a system is leaking,” said Welch.

“This will be the largest scale that it’s ever been attempted on, but there seems to be great support at the federal level to infuse money into this project and see it be successful,” said Mike Stark, county manager. The carbon capture technology will find a use for the excess carbon dioxide, and will help to keep the jobs in the county.

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With the trend towards decarbonization, Justin Ong, Program Director at the market-oriented clean energy nonprofit ClearPath, believes that CCS carbon capture technology can “extend the useful life of plants” and “continue the production of coal in an environmentally friendly way.” According to Ong, “17 million metric tons of CO2 have been injected at multiple sites total.”

Critics of the partnership between Enchant Energy and the city of Farmington are skeptical of carbon capture, which has yet to achieve widespread commercial adoption in the United States. Attempts to implement CCS technology have been unsuccessful; at the Kemper project in Mississippi, delays tripled the original cost estimate of $2.2 billion. Environmentalists describe CCS as only a band-aid to save the coal industry instead of a long-term clean solution. Storing carbon underground may also contaminate groundwater and cause earthquakes.

Enchant Energy has contracted with the engineering firm Sargent and Lundy on a feasibility study of installing carbon capture technology at San Juan station.

The dream of carbon capture in San Juan County is not a new one. A study conducted a decade ago by the same firm concluded that converting the plant’s remaining two units for CCS could cost $2 billion. Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation poured millions of dollars into planning for the Desert Rock project, which never reached fruition. This was to be a power plant with carbon capture technology that would sit directly on tribal land.

Economic and Energy Diversification

“We’ve tried to put a new face on Farmington. We are not just coal and oil and gas,” said Farmington’s Mayor Nate Duckett. (Photos by Vladimir Choloupka for …& The West)

Farmington has recently installed road signs that highlight the natural assets of the region, under the motto, “Jolt Your Journey.”

“We’ve tried to put a new face on Farmington. We are not just coal and oil and gas,” said Farmington’s Mayor Nate Duckett. “We are also hiking trails and off-road trails and rivers and lakes and camping and fishing.” He says he hopes to “build a new mindset that we are a community where active families and outdoor lovers can thrive.”

Much like the state of New Mexico as a whole, Farmington also has the potential to be a national power in renewable energy, with an abundance of wind and more than 300 days of sunshine annually. Massive wind and solar projects are being built in southern New Mexico, like the 522 megawatt Sagamore Wind Project, which will be the largest wind farm in the state’s history. The SunZia and Western Spirit transmission line projects will enable power to be exported to major markets.

“We are in a real need now for economic diversification,” said Mike Eisenfeld, Energy and Climate Program Manager at San Juan Citizens Alliance, an environmental advocacy group. “There are more sustainable ways of creating electricity that need to be fully vetted. We need to help with the transition, but we also need to think about diversifying our economy here.”

It is not clear what the coming changes in Farmington will mean for the mine and power plant workers now on edge. “I’m just going to ride it out till the end, until the last day,” said Kenny Benally, maintaining his optimism. “That’s all you can do, hope for the best.”

This story was first published by the …& The West Blog at the Bill Lane Center for the American West. You can find the original article here.

Environmentalists: Retiring Colorado’s Coal Fleet is Cost-Effective by 2023

DENVER – Retiring Colorado’s fleet of coal-fired power plants could cut carbon and save utility customers billions of dollars, according to a new analysis by the Sierra Club.

The study looked at the economic impact of replacing 10 coal units in the state with cheaper wind and solar.

The Sierra Club hired the consulting firm Strategen to examine different scenarios. The firm found that utilities could save about $1.7 billion if they replaced the units with wind, and $1.4 billion if they replaced coal with solar instead. The analysis did not include coal units currently slated for retirement such as Nucla and Xcel’s Comanche Units 1 and 2.

When Strategen calculated the social cost of carbon on the plants to account for public health and property damage using recently approved state formulas, it found nearly $18 billion in savings. The social cost of carbon looks at the overall cost of climate change to human health, economies and society.

“The report shows how the coal-fired generation in Colorado’s energy portfolio is economically unviable, and how it’s burdening electricity customers with extra costs when compared with cheaper wind and solar,” said Anna McDevitt, senior campaign representative at the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

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The Sierra Club is calling on electricity providers like Xcel Energy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association to retire coal plants early. State lawmakers have also put new pressures on utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. In the last session, they passed HB 1261, which requires the state overall to reduce emissions 90 percent by 2050.

Tri-State didn’t comment directly on the report’s findings, but said in a statement it’s doing its own analysis, and remains committed to purchasing renewable energy. Xcel Energy did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Colorado is Entering a New Environmental Era… Maybe

DENVER – More than a dozen new energy and environment bills are headed to Gov. Jared Polis for a signature. They cover an array of issues from the oversight of electrical generating companies to how companies have to factor climate change into their decision making to the nitty gritty of how oil and gas drilling is governed in the state.

“Given the priority we saw voters make of energy and the environment this past fall they were a really an important part of this past legislative session,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, an environmental nonprofit.

While momentous, the actual impacts of some policies are yet to be determined. At least two — the oil rule and greenhouse gas reduction goals — will see many details decided in rulemaking by state agencies.

Agencies will release basic ideas on their plans for new regulations. Then they’ll release a draft rule for the public to weigh in on. Some environmental groups plan to put pressure on the state to hold evening sessions, so the public has a better chance to share their concerns.

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The oil and gas law, for example, will require at least a half-dozen rules to be written or rewritten. That means it could take years — not months — to completely spell out details of measures that could have the biggest impact on curbing climate change.

“So the outcome of this session we won’t know fully for multiple years to come,” said Scott Prestidge, communications director for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Here’s a list of the key energy and environment bills:

Just Transition From Coal-based Electrical Energy Economy. Creates first-of-its-kind Just Transition office, and makes grants available to coal transition workers.

Electric Motor Vehicles Public Utility Services. Allows electric utilities to apply to the Public Utilities Commission to build electric vehicle charging stations.

Protect Public Welfare Oil and Gas Operations. 29-page bill makes health and safety a priority for regulators and launches more than a half dozen rulemakings on things like flowlines, adopting additional methane controls.

Collect Long-Term Climate Change Data. Directs state health officials to collect greenhouse gas emission data annually, and make data available to local governments.

Community Solar Gardens Modernization Act. Allows community solar gardens to expand from 2 to 5 megawatts.

Modify Innovative Motor Vehicle Income Tax Credits. Current law phases out EV tax credits at the end of 2021, new law extends tax credits through 2025.

Electric Vehicle Grant Fund. Allows for more flexibility in how EV Grant Fund administered by the Colorado Energy Office is used.

New Appliance Energy and Water Efficiency Standards. Appliances and plumbing fixtures sold in Colorado will have to meet new energy efficiency and water efficiency standards.

Building Energy Codes. Local governments required to adopt one of three international energy conservation codes when they update building codes.

Climate Action Plan To Reduce Pollution. Directs Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050.

Housing Authority Properties. Allows public housing authorities to participate in state PACE program, a way to finance clean energy projects.

Front Range Waste Diversion Program. Creates Front Range landfill fee that goes to help communities meet waste diversion goals.

Sunset Public Utilities Commission. 81-page bill gives new charter for state electric utility regulators, including a move in 2020 to calculate the social cost of carbon dioxide emissions in certain utility proceedings.

This story was first published by CPR News on May 13, 2019. You can listen to a radio debrief with environmental reporter Grace Hood here.

Navajo Nation President Proclaims Renewable Energy Its Top Priority

WINDOW ROCK – Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez signed a proclamation Tuesday that embraces a shift to clean energy development. This comes just days after the tribal council voted to drop its bid for the west’s largest coal-fired power plant.

The proclamation says the tribe will provide off-grid solar to the 15,000 or so Navajo households still without electricity. It will build more utility-scale solar energy projects. Its second solar farm goes online in two months. The tribe also plans to build a solar panel assembly plant to create more jobs.

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Nez said it’s time for our land to heal from coal.

“The opportunity is now,” Nez said. “The opportunity is here, ladies and gentlemen. Let us embrace it. Let the Navajo Nation continue to embrace change by being the leader in renewable energy projects in Indian Country.”

Nez said the tribe is positioning itself to continue to provide energy for the West, as states like New Mexico and California sign legislation to go carbon free by 2045.

This story was first published as a part of the Fronteras Desk, a unique KJZZ project that covers a wide expanse of an under-covered news desert that stretches from northern Arizona deep into northwestern Mexico.