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Navajo Nation bill would replace 2.25 GW of coal with renewables

04.01.19

Original article: https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2019/04/01/navajo-nation-bill-would-replace-2-25-gw-of-coal-with-renewables/

By William Driscoll | April 1, 2019

The same day that a Navajo Nation legislative committee rejected a bill favoring acquisition of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station, legislator Elmer Begay introduced a new bill to “move the Navajo Nation beyond coal source revenues and forward to sustainable, renewable energy sources.”

The bill would establish a transition task force to provide recommendations, by June 7, regarding replacement revenues for the lost revenues associated with coal, as well as assistance to displaced workers. It also calls for rewriting the Navajo Nation energy policy to move to renewables.

As the Navajo Nation was apparently the last potential savior for the Navajo Generating Station, the unit will be shut down by December 22; the Kayenta coal mine serving the unit will also close.

Considering a solar-plus-storage option, the transmission lines that have handled 2.25 GW of coal power could support substantially more solar capacity paired with storage—for example, by using a 3:1 DC to AC ratio, as discussed by pv magazine and 8minutenergy President & CEO Tom Buttgenbach in a recent interview.

For the 500 MW of transmission controlled by the Navajo Nation, said Nicole Horseherder, executive director of Tó Nizhóní Ání, “the most reasonable thing to do is to put solar energy on the transmission line and own it and operate it.” She said her group helped draft the bill to move the Navajo Nation to renewables.

“The Navajo Nation on a broad level supports renewables,” said Ms. Horseherder, and understands “that transition is imminent and has to happen. Most people understand that the market for coal is going away.”

She added that the Navajo Nation has had conversations with many different solar companies. She said solar companies’ main concerns are “Where do we develop and where can we get our energy onto the transmission line?”

A new report on employment opportunities projects thousands of potential jobs in utility-scale solar construction, and recommends forming a $20 million Navajo-Hopi impact investment fund to provide capital to Native-American owned contractors bidding on coal plant and coal mine decommissioning and reclamation, and on solar plant construction, tourism, and manufacturing opportunities. The report’s lead author is Navajo tribal member Tony Skrelunas, MBA; the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis published the report.

As for the Navajo Nation’s past support for coal, Ms. Horseherder said “There are a few key positions that support coal. Think of the U.S. Congress and how some people in key positions that have been there longer than others have been pushing initiatives, and make it seem like the whole nation supports that. That’s a similar situation with the Navajo Nation.” She said that coal has represented more than 50% of Navajo Nation revenues.

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