LOCAL NEWS

Power Plant Shutdown Looms Over Navajo Nation

May 28, 2019, 6:59 PM | Updated: 7:01 pm

PAGE, Arizona — A huge economic blow is beginning to descend on communities near Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border. A giant power plant that’s been a big provider of jobs for nearly a half-century now seems certain to die in the next few months.

The Navajo Generating Station looms over the lower end of Lake Powell, a half-dozen miles south of the Utah state line. It’s one of the biggest coal-fired plants in the nation. But its days are numbered.

“The current lease ends Dec. 22, 2019,” said plant spokesman George Hardeen. “So that is the day that we will cease making electricity.”

When the plant’s owners and operators first announced the shutdown two years ago, officials of the Navajo Nation desperately tried to keep the plant open by negotiating a deal for a new buyer. But all the deal-making seems to have fallen through.

Nine hundred jobs will disappear at the plant and at the coal mine that feeds it. The impending doom of the plant has nothing to do with the so-called “war on coal” supposedly waged by the administration of former President Barack Obama.

“It’s pretty simple,” Hardeen said. “The price of natural gas has fallen below the cost of coal to make electricity. And that’s all because of fracking. It’s cheaper to make electricity with natural gas. There is actually a glut of natural gas in the country right now.”

The planned shutdown of the coal-fired plant is already making a deep economic impact on the Navajo Nation, and it’s certain to get worse. The tribal government relies on the operation for 20 percent of its revenue and the job loss is potentially devastating to a place where unemployment is already around 40 percent.

“You’re talking about 900 of the highest paying jobs that will be lost,” said Paul Begay, who was recently elected to represent the area as a Navajo Nation Council delegate. He predicts significant cutbacks in tribal services.

“We will have to cut a lot of programs,” Begay said. “Health programs, it includes our security programs, even the law enforcement area. All programs will be affected.”

Salt River Project, the utility company that manages the plant, has promised continued employment for workers.

“They’re doing their very best to essentially offer jobs at other locations to every single employee at the Navajo Generating Station,” said Tim Suan, community development director for the nearby town of Page, Arizona.

But hundreds of jobs will also be lost this fall when Peabody Energy is expected to shut down the Kayenta Coal Mine that provides fuel for the power plant.

“The mine will close,” Hardeen said, “and people will have to find other jobs.”

There’s added anxiety in the region because power plant workers who accept other jobs from Salt River Project have to move hundreds of miles to stay employed.

“Customarily, Navajos are very rooted in where they are from, where they live. That means they are very rooted with their family,” Begay said. “They will be separated from family. The breadwinner, the mom and dad, whoever it is, will have to leave their families behind.”

On the other hand, another economic trend is providing some good news in the vicinity of the power plant.

“Luckily,” Suan said, “we are blessed to have a secondary (economic) base of tourism.”

In the last few years, tourism has exploded around the Glen Canyon Dam and the lower part of Lake Powell where the Navajo Nation operates one of the two marinas.

Horseshoe Canyon, with its spectacular views of a major bend in the Colorado River, has become a worldwide attraction just a couple of miles downriver from the dam. A parking area at the trailhead is now so persistently overcrowded that officials this year were forced to set up a shuttle system with remote parking.

Nearly in the shadow of the power plant, tours of a famous slot canyon are often overwhelmed with visitors. On almost any day with good weather, fleets of trucks depart regularly hauling tourists to Upper Antelope Canyon.

A few hundreds yards away, parking lots for Lower Antelope Canyon are often jammed with tourist vehicles. The popular attractions have become a major source of revenue for the Navajo Nation as tourism in the Page area has evolved into a year-round business.

“The latest offhand account is about 4.5 million visitors annually,” Suan said.

The Navajo Nation gets much of the benefit from the tourist boom.

“We’re looking right now at tourism as the way to survive, ” Begay said. But he still predicts a tough time for power plant workers who face the choice of moving or losing their jobs.

“It’s something that is very hurtful to the families that are trying to stick together,” Begay said.

At last count, 280 plant workers had already retired or moved to company jobs elsewhere.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

The aftermath of the 15 to 20 acre Magna fire. (Credit: Isaiah Salazar)...
Michael Houck

Firefighters battled against two smaller fires Sunday night

While fire crews battled against the Deuel Creek Fire in Centerville, other first responders handled two other blazes Sunday night.
1 day ago
An RV completely burns down on I-16, shutting down southbound traffic. (Credit: UDOT)...
Michael Houck

RV completely burns down on I-15

On Monday afternoon, an RV was engulfed in flames shutting down Interstate 15.
1 day ago
Refugees study for the US citizenship test....
Erin Cox

Rolling the dice for citizenship: Refugees join SLC English program for citizenship application

There’s a unique program here in Utah designed to help refugees and immigrants with their citizenship applications.
1 day ago
Chief Craft on Traverse...
Ladd Egan

‘It’s just primed to burn right now’: Lehi fire chief urges caution with fireworks during windy conditions

After the devastating fire in 2020, Lehi fire officials are worried about another blaze hitting their community.
1 day ago
The burn scars of the Deuel Creek Fire....
Jed Boal

‘There’s smoke everywhere’: residents recall evacuating during the Deuel Creek Fire

“I came out running and looked up, and there’s just like smoke everywhere;” residents tell their stories of evacuating late at night during the Deuel Creek fire.
1 day ago
Barnes on the USU campus. (Credit: Utah State University)...
Michael Houck

Suspect arrested for leaving lewd images across USU campus

Police booked a man for leaving pictures of his genitals and exposing himself across Utah State University's Logan campus.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

hand holding 3d rendering mobile connect with security camera for security solutions...
Les Olson

Wondering what security solutions are right for you? Find out more about how to protect your surroundings

Physical security helps everyone. Keep your employees, clients, and customers safe with security solutions that protect your workplace.
Many rattan pendant lights, hay hang from the ceiling.Traditional and simple lighting....
Lighting Design

The Best Ways to Style Rattan Pendant Lighting in Your Home

Rattan pendant lights create a rustic and breezy feel, and are an easy way to incorporate this hot trend into your home decor.
Earth day 2022...
1-800-GOT-JUNK?

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Lighting trends 2022...

Lighting Trends 2022 | 5 Beautiful Home Lighting Trends You Can Expect to See this Year and Beyond

This is where you can see the latest lighting trends for 2022 straight from the Lightovation Show at the Dallas World Trade Center.
What Can't You Throw Away in the Trash...

What Can’t You Throw Away in the Trash? | 5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw in to Your Trash Can

What can't you throw away in the trash? Believe it or not, there are actually many items that shouldn't be thrown straight into the trash.
Power Plant Shutdown Looms Over Navajo Nation