Tribes, regulator oppose closure of power plant

Paul Davenport
Associated Press
The main plant facility at the Navajo Generating Station is seen Sept. 4, 2011, from Lake Powell in Page, Ariz.

PHOENIX — The possible shutdown of a northern Arizona coal-fired power plant that provides hundreds of jobs is drawing opposition from two Native American tribes and a state utility regulator.

Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe leaders said keeping the Navajo Generating Station near Page in full operation benefits the tribes and the state because it is an important economic driver, while Corporation Commission member Andy Tobin said the plant’s owners should consider more than their own economics.

The Salt River Project has said it and other plant owners are considering whether to close it because of low prices for natural gas that can produce electricity.

The owners "are still assessing the future of the plant beyond 2019 and intend to make a decision in the coming weeks," SRP spokesman Scott Harelson said Friday in an email.

The plant’s lease with the Navajo Nation expires Dec. 22, 2019. Harelson said no timetable has been set on a possible halt of operations, but he said decommissioning the plant would take at least two years.

The plant employs 500 people, mostly Navajo. Additional jobs at a mine that supplies the plant with coal are also at stake.

Besides SRP, the plant’s operator, the other owners are the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Arizona Public Service Co., Tucson Electric Power Co. and Nevada-based NV Energy.

Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates said “SRP needs to take into full consideration the impact that a possible closure would have on the economy, jobs, and communities that rely on NGS.”

Bates and Hopi Tribal Chairman Herman G. Honanie said in a joint statement they want more transparency from the plant’s owners regarding their intentions.

While the Navajo Nation said it has a task force that meets with SRP officials to discuss possible solutions, Tobin called for a summit to discuss ways “to protect NGS.”

“SRP must look beyond its spreadsheets and see that this decision must not and should not be made unilaterally,” Tobin wrote in a letter to SRP President David Rousseau.

Harelson said the owners understand the impacts that a shutdown would have on employees, the tribes and Page and “continue to closely communicate with the various constituents to keep them apprised of circumstances surrounding NGS.”

The owners have long worked to extend the 40-year-old plant’s life but changing energy economics compel them “to explore every possible scenario,” Harelson said.

“Our efforts to assess the economics of NGS are an example of our commitment to ensure we keep prices low for our customers,” he added later in an emailed statement.

The Corporation Commission does not have authority over SRP but it does regulate APS and TEP, and Tobin said he may soon propose commission action on those utilities’ involvement with NGS.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2014 that the plant could either shut down one of its three 750-megawatt units or reduce power generation by an equal amount by 2020 to cut haze-causing pollution at places like the Grand Canyon.

Additional emission control equipment would be needed by 2030 on the two remaining units.

Associated Press writer Astrid Galvan in Phoenix contributed to this report.