A Hail Mary Attempt to Save the West's Largest Coal Plant Has Failed

The Navajo Generating Station
The Navajo Generating Station
Photo: Courtesy of SRP

After a brief period of hope that it could be kept alive longer, the largest coal plant in the West is once again on track shut down at the end of 2019.


The Navajo Nation, which is counting on the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) in Arizona to remain open, found potential buyers for the doomed facility back in July. However, those negotiations appeared to have failed because the two companies involved—New York-based Avenue Capital and Chicago-based Middle River Power—announced they were giving up Thursday.

The facility’s utility owners announced last year they’d continue to run the plant until the end of 2019 upon reaching a lease agreement with the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, whose peoples are heavily employed by both the plant and the coal mine supplying it. After 2019, new owners need to come in—or the plant will close for good. Finding said owners hasn’t proven easy, and the process has been full of drama-filled lawsuits and congressional hearings.

But Native American groups aren’t yet ready to give up.

“The Navajo Nation is poised to pursue other viable options to allow for the continuation of the Navajo Generating Station beyond 2019,” said Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates, in a statement published on Facebook.

The reality is that coal can’t keep up in an age where natural gas is cheap and the cost of renewables falling rapidly. That’s why utility owners to wanted shutter the operations in the first place.

The potential new buyers, meanwhile, couldn’t find anyone who’d commit to buying the coal-powered energy that comes from NGS, reports the Associated Press. Without that, the companies couldn’t begin a proper environmental review, and they just weren’t willing to take the risk playing the waiting game.


“We have concluded, regrettably, that the steps required to facilitate our ownership and operation of NGS are no longer possible within the required timeframe,” the companies wrote in a letter to the Navajo Nation, per the AP.

Perhaps now is the time for these tribes to focus their energy on other ways to boost their economies. That decision, however, is ultimately up to them. Coal comes with health costs associated with its pollution-filled burning and toxic waste, but that’s a bill some may be willing to foot.


Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.


Dense non aqueous phase liquid

Time to move on. More importantly, I read one of the parties in the deal to keep the plant operating was a Chicago group of deal doers.

There’s a sliver of a silver lining here. The amount of money for plant decommissioning (demo), immediate site restoration, remediation of ash piles, remediation of groundwater + reclamation of mined land + plus future use site preparation > we’re talking billions and billions of dollars and thousands and thousands of man (oh, and women, too) hours. This will take at least five years. More like 20 after all the legal and financial is done taking about 10 years to do.

Navajo generating station as a nameplate (design) capacity of about 2,500 megawatts (MW). A rule of thumb for a coal plant is between about $200 and $500 per MW. Let’s use the high end because that’s usually a good assumption. So 2,500 MW x $500/MW = $1.25 billion. Call that $2 billion

That doesn’t include ash piles. Toss in about $1 billion there - but that’s low if the piles are a big fucking mess like the Tennessee TVA one that spild ash all over the place. And more if the Navajo hire a good lawyer who will demand site cleanup to pre Columbian era, i.e. squeaky clean. Don’t be dumb, Navajo and accept “risk based cleanup levels.”

Now the coal mine.

Fuck, this could be about $100 million for moving around some soil and sowing some plant seeds on the ridiculously low end. That would be dumb as fuck to accept. Assume reclamation of mine site to an even earlier period than pre Columbian. Let’s say $2 billion.

Groundwater? Price that shit at say $500 million, with an open checkbook, if the hydrogeologists/remedial dorkwad sucks ass.

So we’re talking $5.5 billion with a not to exceed $55 billion cost plus contract. Keep it open, kids. There would be no DoD joint fighter F35 if the check book was closed.

That’s a lot of work for the residents of the reservation. And there’s a lot of high skilled jobs to be done on site and then to transfer out to other sites, both under DoI and with the private sector.

Here’s a pretty good cost estimate for power plant decommissioning - not the other stuff mentioned above. Like all generic cost estimates, take it with a grain of salt. And don’t believe anything written in the comments of Earther.