Time to take a firm grip on our future

By Ariz. State Rep. Eric Descheenie and
Ariz. State Rep. Wenona Benally

After nearly nine hours of debate, the Navajo Nation Council passed a bill on the lease for the Navajo Generating Station by a vote of 18-4 on June 26.

The bill approves a 35-year lease with Salt River Project and the remaining Navajo Generating Station owners to allow the coal power plant to stay in operation until 2019.

The decommissioning of NGS provides the Navajo Nation with a rare window of opportunity for our Nation to truly pursue a path toward self-determination and self-sustainability. Now is the time for our Nation to transition toward a renewable energy future.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Navajo Nation will have access to a 500-megawatt transmission line. Developing a large scale solar plant, for example, at the NGS site and on reclaimed areas of the Kayenta Mine would allow the Nation to export power over the existing transmission grid to markets in places like Nevada and even Tucson and Phoenix where there is a demand for carbon-free power.

Producing 500 megawatts of electricity is also enough power to light up 175,000 homes. If the Nation were to begin working on a long-term strategy to support chapter-level solar projects, we would have the potential to provide electricity to Navajo homes that still remain without power.

A historic opportunity also exists for the Navajo Nation to build and become an economic engine for the region. The Navajo Nation is in an excellent position to take advantage of the investments that will be made in the renewable energy market.

Market studies predict that rapid development of utility scale solar will occur over the next five years. Armed with this same market data, we know that SRP, Arizona State University, Microsoft, and cities like Tempe and Flagstaff are all planning to acquire significant new renewable energy resources in the coming years.
Apple Inc., for example, has already built a 300-acre solar power plant in Florence to offset the electricity it uses in its Mesa data center.

All have said they would be interested in potentially purchasing renewable energy developed by and generated on the Navajo Nation, should it become available.

A large-scale renewable energy project would also ensure good paying jobs for construction and skilled trades workers, maintenance technicians, managers and engineers, to name a few. All of these positions could and should be filled by a Navajo workforce.

ASU and Northern Arizona University are currently in talks with the Navajo Nation to develop workshops and courses to teach Navajo workers skills in manufacturing, assembly, installation, and maintenance of solar energy facilities. Such a partnership would put Navajo workers back to work and, more importantly, allow Navajo families to stay.

Our story as Navajo people reaching back at least a hundred years has us living someone else’s economic purpose. Aware or unaware, we live our lives fulfilling someone else’s dreams.

The tragedy of this is not with other people, rather it exists in the opportunities we leave behind, in the chances to finally break free from what prevents us from reaching our full potential.

We are now in a crucial place. It is time to take firm grip of our future, to put ourselves in a place to write our own stories.

Pursuing a renewable energy future simply makes the most sense not just for the economy but for our workers, for the environment and for the people of the Navajo Nation. Opportunities abound.

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Categories: Opinion