Agreement would end coal use at NGS

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, August 1, 2013

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T he Navajo Nation is part of a joint agreement that proposes to reduce pollution emitted from the Navajo Generating Station, eventually transitioning it from coal to cleaner energy.

The proposal outlines the future operation of NGS, a 2,250-megawatt coal-fired power plant located near Page, Ariz., in addition to plans for developing clean energy resources.

The alternative roadmap is in response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to have NGS reduce its nitrogen oxide emissions by 20 percent by 2018.

A seven-member work group submitted the alternative plan July 25. It calls for one of the power plant's three generating units to be shut down by 2020 and to end coal use by 2044.

It also establishes a local benefit fund to be used for community improvement projects in chapters located within 100 miles of NGS and the Kayenta Mine, which is located on Navajo and Hopi lands and supplies coal to the power plant.

The proposal includes commitments by the U.S. Department of the Interior to develop clean energy projects for the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe and the Gila River Indian Community.

The latter was highlighted to receive funding to develop a 33-megawatt solar energy facility while other tribal renewable projects were not specifically named.

"By mentioning the GRIC project specifically, is not intended in any way to restrict or discourage other projects from any other of the affected tribes. Nor does it prioritize the GRIC project for future low-emitting project support from Interior," said Jessica Kershaw, Interior Department spokeswoman.

Another aspect of the agreement sets a commitment by the Interior Department to provide $100 million in financial assistance over a decade and beginning in 2020 to tribes in Arizona that rely on water from the Central Arizona Project.

That financial commitment would be consistent with existing law.

In addition to reducing the regional haze caused by NGS, the agreement would allow NGS to continue delivering electricity to its users while implementing alternative production plans.

The Navajo Nation, the Interior Department, Salt River Project, Central Arizona Water Conservation District, Gila River Indian Community, Environmental Defense Fund, and Western Resource Advocates developed the agreement through a joint effort.

The parties first met in March to develop the alternative plan, said Stephen Etsitty, executive director for Navajo EPA, in an interview Monday.

Each entity was allowed two representatives for the Technical Work Group. Etsitty, along with Attorney General Harrison Tsosie, represented the tribe but they also consulted with Toni Flora, an attorney with the Natural Resources Unit for the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, and engineers from the tribe's Air Quality Control Program.

In late January, the U.S. EPA announced its proposed Best Available Retrofit Technology ruling that would require installing pollution-control equipment known as selective catalytic reduction technology on NGS' three units to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxide emissions, then opened its ruling proposal for public comment.

By the end of February, the NGS owners decided to form the Technical Work Group to formulate an alternative proposal to the ruling, Etsitty said.

The U.S. EPA's proposed ruling is also a step to comply with air standards set by the Obama Administration.

The pollution impacts the region's air quality in addition to reducing visibility at eight national parks, including the Grand Canyon.

The NGS is owned and operated by six entities: the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, SRP, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Arizona Public Service Co., Nevada Energy and Tucson Electric Power.

Proponents of NGS cite that its continued operation would provide opportunities for Navajo employment and would also sustain employment of Navajos at Kayenta Mine.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed the alternative proposal agreement on behalf of the tribe.

"There is still much work to be done to maintain compliance with the Clean Air Act, the Regional Haze Rule, and future rules while supporting the continued dedicated efforts of industry, the Navajo Nation, and EPA to balance air quality goals with economic prosperity," Shelly said.

Shelly added that he continues to be concerned with the potential impact of job losses and its effect to the regional economy.

Vickie Patton, general counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund, said the plan provides a roadmap to cleaner air and climate progress.

"We had to work through some difficult issues but together we were able to develop an approach that provides for cleaner air at the Grand Canyon and surrounding communities, that begins a cost-effective clean energy transition at the Navajo Generating Station," Patton said.

Submission of the proposed agreement comes more than a week after the Navajo Nation Council approved extending the lease agreement for NGS for an additional 25 years, starting in 2019.

Shelly signed the lease extension Tuesday in a signing ceremony in front of the Window Rock and attended by members of his administration and SRP officials.

It now goes to the other NGS owners for signatures, then to the Interior Department where final authorization rests.