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Market momentum favors solar

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, sun-powered generation is expected to provide the greatest portion of new electricity-generation additions nationally — ahead of any other form of generation. Solar development should prioritize a significant community-ownership stake. It is critical that tribal-chapter communities have the latest information so that projects are tailored to meet the long-term interests of local communities that have been historically underserved and overlooked.

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), along with DinéHozhó L3c, have prepared an overview of guidelines for tribal communities to have as a resource, which can be accessed here. Some key recommendations include:

Tribal Ownership

  • Pre-development of projects and development procedures should create partnerships that ensure tribal-chapter ownership equity in perpetuity.
  • As with predevelopment requirements, many mechanisms already in existence can serve as foundations by which fair and just shared-ownership models could be put into place. For example, Tribal-chapter development corporations could serve a key equity-ownership role.

Community Benefits

  • Informed negotiation is crucial to ensuring that solar-development projects are built in ways that benefit and protect local communities.
  • Reasonable benefits should include earmarked revenue for scholarship funds, employment assistance, stand-alone funding for the thousands of Navajo households that do not have electricity, and set-asides for veterans’ assistance, healthcare, as well as senior services.

Project Locations

  • Strong candidates for community-owned utility-scale solar developments in Arizona include Black Mesa, Cameron, Coalmine, Dilkon, Hard Rock, Kayenta, LeChee, Leupp, Shonto, and Tuba City.
  • Partnership requirements for these communities and others like them should include proven track records, liability protections, strong financing, and cultural compatibility.

How will workers be taken care of when NGS and Kayenta mine close?

At the NGS power plant, owner-operator Salt River Project has committed to redeploying its workers to other jobs in the SRP system, or lend assistance to those that prefer to land another job. This raises the question — what is Peabody doing in terms of similar advanced planning to take care of mine workers?

Given Peabody’s past history of cheating communities, Navajo Nation officials should demand answers to protect workers. Peabody’s track record include making its workers fight tooth and nail for retiree health and pension, all meanwhile its top executives rake in fortunes in the face of bankruptcy. For example:

  • In its Patriot Coal scheme, Peabody seeking to avoid its obligations to workers’ health care is well-known.
  • In 2014, after Peabody stockholders had lost $16 billion in value, thousands of workers had been laid off and Peabody was headed for bankruptcy, meanwhile Peabody’s top five execs pulled down about $25 million.

With the right cleanup strategies, job creation and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand, securing the future of a community as a whole. Closing down NGS and the Kayenta mine will require clean up and remediation strategies. Here are some examples of what job creation has looked like in similar coal plant sites in other parts of the country:

  • Cleanup operations at sites in North Carolina and South Carolina employed 50% – 90% of the plant’s operating workforce.
  • Transport, building a new treatment plant, and conducting water treatment ca become engines of employment. Excavation, in particular, requires a large workforce.
  • A coal plant and mining workforce already have skills relevant to clean up and remediation strategies. While some additional training is needed, a modest additional effort and investment would lead to many long-term benefits, keeping these jobs in the community.
  • Decision-makers should take all relevant impacts into account when analyzing various cleanup options and should advocate for the solutions that best meet the community’s needs. But that planning needs to start NOW.

Read more on clean up jobs examples from this Northern Plains Resource Council report related to plant decommissioning and remediation of coal ash at Colstrip.

Photo by Michael Collier.

Negotiated in the agreement with SRP for the closure of NGS are water rights that the Navajo Nation could expand on. These include:

  • Transferring the water pumping infrastructure to the Navajo Nation. This infrastructure could form the basis to build a broader distribution system.
  • Supporting the Nation’s efforts to acquire the use of a portion of the 50,000 acre-feet annually allocated to the State of Arizona under the Colorado River compacts.

Additionally, as NGS closes, the contract for water use at the plan will also end, freeing up water for other purposes such as domestic or agriculture uses. The Navajo Nation could seize that opportunity to:

  • Apply for a new contract with the Bureau of Reclamation for delivery of water to the Navajo Nation using existing infrastructure.
  • Expand water rights. Tribal water rights, or Federal Reserve rights, may represent a much larger volume of water, but have not been quantified. This also represents an opportunity to secure additional rights with a much broader settlement with other states in the Colorado Basin and Congressional approval.

Given the historic opportunities, it is critical that the Navajo Nation begins work on securing and expanding water rights as soon as possible. Download this water fact sheet for additional details.