Navajo Transitional Energy Company abandons pursuit of northern Arizona power plant, coal mine
FARMINGTON — The Navajo Transitional Energy Company has stopped efforts to acquire the Navajo Generating Station and the Kayenta Mine in northern Arizona.
NTEC, an enterprise of the Navajo Nation, made its announcement Friday, March 22, a day after the Naa'biki'íyáti' Committee rejected a bill to support the company's independent action.
The company stated in a press release its decision was based on the ongoing demand by the NGS ownership that the Navajo Nation provide an unlimited guarantee of any liability for decommissioning the plant.
Talks between NTEC and Salt River Project, majority owner of the coal-fired plant, reached a stalemate on Feb. 27 over long-term liabilities, including clean-up costs.
SRP spokesman Scott Harleson said Friday there had been no further negotiations with NTEC after company representatives walked out of the meeting in February.
"The owners had made it clear to NTEC when discussions first began in October that they required a guaranty of future liabilities so as not to expose our customers to any future unknown risks or expenses associated with an operating coal-fired plant," Harleson said.
NGS owners announced in 2017 that operations would cease in December 2019 due to rising costs and competition from natural gas production.
Kayenta Mine is owned by Peabody Energy and its only customer is the plant. Together, the entities provide revenue to the Navajo and Hopi tribes as well as employment for tribal members.
NTEC was tasked last year with examining a possible acquisition after receiving direction from former Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and former Speaker LoRenzo Bates.
The company's effort to explore the asset was supported by the Naa'biki'íyáti' Committee under the previous council in late December.
Council committee says no to support
On Thursday, current members of the Naa'biki'íyáti' Committee rejected a bill to support NTEC's sole action to acquire the power plant and mine.
Under the bill, the tribe would not provide any financial guarantees and would not grant any waivers or release of claims to the NGS owners or to NTEC for the acquisition.
Comments by delegates about the bill were mixed during the special meeting in Window Rock, Arizona.
Some delegates stated overall support for the legislation while others questioned its intent since NTEC received support in December.
Remarks also centered on the viability of the plant and mine due to more reliance on renewable energy and tighter environmental regulations.
Delegate Rick Nez, the bill's sponsor, called for support and explained the "landmark" decision would determine the fate of NGS and Kayenta Mine.
"My position has always been supporting Navajo Generating Station power plant employees, Kayenta-Peabody mine workers, Navajo Nation employees and their families who will be affected by the closure of both NGS and Kayenta Mine," Nez said.
Delegate Otto Tso was among those who advocated for NTEC to continue talks with SRP, adding the company received its "marching orders" from the previous council.
"Continue negotiating. It's an opportunity. We already gave that authority," he said.
Among those to speak against the bill was Delegate Charlaine Tso.
"I do not support NTEC purchasing NGS," she said adding her decision was partly based on health concerns for mine employees and community members.
Delegate Jamie Henio said regardless if the committee supports or opposes the bill, it would have no bearing or make a difference since the NGS owners will not resume negotiations.
Breakdown of vote by name
The official vote tally from the committee meeting showed 9 delegates voting in favor of the legislation, 11 against and four not voting.
• Voting yes:
Thomas Walker Jr.
• Voting no:
Kee Allen Begay Jr.
Raymond Smith Jr.
Wilson Stewart Jr.
• Not voting:
Amber Kanazbah Crotty
Source: Navajo Nation Office of the Speaker
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.