No number of protests are likely to keep a major coal-fired power plant in Arizona open. In fact, its biggest customer finalized a couple contracts Thursday to replace their power source when the plant shutters next year.
The Navajo Generating Station, the largest coal plant in the West, has been through a serious game of Tug-of-War in the last year. Its owners—Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service Co., NV Energy, and Tucson Electric Power—don’t want it anymore because the plant’s not making enough money. Members of the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe who depend on the plant for their income and livelihoods, on the other hand, are pretty ticked off.
They took to the streets earlier this week to try and convince the board of directors overseeing the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a canal that’s always relied on the station for power to distribute water to the state, to wait three months before signing any new power deals. That way, potential buyer Middle River Power could put together a proposal to buy the power station.
The board’s response? “Sorry, but nah.” Outside of one member with a conflict of interest, the board voted unanimously to partially replace this coal with solar energy. The new solar contract will sell CAP power for just 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, reports The Arizona Republic, which is cheap AF.
That and another other deal—with coal plant co-owner Salt River Project to purchase power from a “variety of sources,” per The Republic—cover just 14 percent of the CAP’s electrical needs. So there’s always a chance it’ll turn back to the Navajo Generating Station, but only if the price is right.
While the closure of this major coal plant sounds good for the planet and for business, it’s devastating to the many Native American families who rely on the plant and the Kayenta Mine, where the coal comes from. (There’s no word so far if the new solar plant might offer some of these workers employment.) Just last month, the Hopi Tribe sued CAP because its members allege the project is legally required to purchase power as long as it’s open. Obviously, CAP officials disagree, and the courts will have the final say.
Native American tribal members have even attempted to get President Donald Trump and his administration on board. The Department of Interior is currently weighing whether to force CAP to buy energy outright from the Navajo Generating Station, which would fall in line with Trump’s order last week to keep failing coal plants open. The department apparently believes it has the power to do so, but should it?
Coal is dying. Plants are closing left and right: in Florida, in Texas, and in Wisconsin. The closure of this Arizona plant feels inevitable. What the Navajo and Hopi need are new secure jobs that won’t crumble as the economy moves past a once-applauded but now boo-worthy fuel source.