Energy & Environment

Navajo-owned coal plant to be shut down despite Interior push to keep open

A struggling coal fire plant that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke championed will be officially shut down next year after a planned sale fell through.

The Navajo Generating Station (NGS) on the Arizona-Utah border will cease operations in a year’s time after the company failed to seal a deal with New York-based Avenue Capital and Chicago-based Middle River Power, both companies that had shown an interest in purchasing the plant.

They announced Thursday that they could not come to terms after failing to find clients who would be interested in buying electricity from the coal fired power, the Associated Press reported.

The plant is operated by Navajo and Hopi tribes who both profit off the coal sales.

As the price of natural gas production has decreased over time, coal fired plants have struggled to be a competitive energy source. A number have shuttered or announced plans to retire in the near future.

Zinke, who in his role oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was a strong advocate for keeping the plant operating. In April 2017 Zinke met with Navajo and Hopi leader to discuss ways to keep the plant operating. He tweeted that he was “looking for solutions.”

In June of last year, when the Navajo Nation voted to extend the lease sale of the plant on their land, Zinke said, “This Navajo Nation Council’s endorsement of a new lease gives NGS and Kayenta Mine workers a fighting chance and gives Navajo and Hopi economies a moment to regroup for the work ahead.”

He added: “Now, NGS operations can continue while stakeholders examine opportunities for a new operating partner to extend the life of the plant beyond its original 50-year lease.”

Electricity generation from natural gas surpassed coal as the biggest source of U.S. electricity generation in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nearly 47 percent of the power plants that retired between 2008 and 2017 were coal fired plants–the largest portion, the group found.

Theresa Eisenman, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Reclamation, said Interior remains committed to exploring other economically viable options from other stakeholders for NGS. 

“Interior will continue to support a path forward that meets this objective and recognizes the economic implications to the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, as well as Tribes and water users in central and southern Arizona,” she said in a statement to The Hill.

This story was updated at 3:17 p.m.

Tags Arizona Coal Navajo power plant retire Ryan Zinke Utah

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