Sunday, October 1, 2023

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Navajo Nation’s economic growth rests with clean energy development

By Speaker Lorenzo Bates

Editor’s note: Lorenzo Bates is a former speaker who served on the 22nd and the 23rd Navajo Nation councils.

At June’s Navajo Nation Economic Summit, many sessions focused on our tribe’s economic development. Defining it, spotlighting the vital role the Navajo Chamber of Commerce plays in securing it, and inspiring us to recognize progress from new business prospects.

One major catalyst is clean energy – a topic that many of us believe represents our tribe’s most promising chance for jobs, business, and community growth – and Arizona and the Navajo Nation offer ideal locations for international businesses.

We must deliver the abundant, affordable, and reliable energy these global companies demand to land this economic boon. That’s become one of the few key elements in their decisions will be an infrastructure to guarantee their operations meet established commitments to limit climate warming.

These companies are looking for a location with sufficient power as well as energy and electricity-generating sources that use clean energy. They also seek energy storage facilities to ensure they can always obtain that energy.

Arizona, one of the sunniest states, and the Navajo Nation can fulfill those energy requirements. In 2021, Arizona was ranked fifth in the nation in solar-powered electricity generation, at 10% of net generation (enough to power nearly a million homes), and hydroelectric power supplied another 5%.

There’s another promising renewable energy source that our tribe can benefit from greatly. Sam Woods, a principal at the Navajo-owned RedStreak LLC, talked about the feasibility and deployment of a community’s transition to a clean energy and technology hub. Such a project offers an efficient and effective opportunity for our tribe to benefit from a convergence of technologies.

Woods focused on the Tohatchi Energy Project that converges resources and technologies to develop a geothermal energy source that could stimulate our Navajo Nation economy. Among other things, the project will provide water and energy in tandem with solar energy to produce cutting-edge “green” hydrogen, a clean fuel technology to offset climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. The project will deliver a re-electrification energy strategy and a clean and plentiful energy source for global businesses that seek an infrastructure that stores hydrogen as a fuel for later use.

Hydrogen is a clean and flexible energy carrier and the most abundant element on earth. Already, Arizona is a finalist in the U.S. Department of Energy’s $7 billion plan to build a network of low-carbon hydrogen hubs to spur clean energy use, combat climate change, and help the U.S. reach its emission goals.

The Arizona hydrogen center under consideration is a collaboration of the Center for an Arizona Carbon-Neutral Economy and partners that started the Southwest Clean Hydrogen Innovation Network. Other hydrogen-related projects are underway. For instance, Arizona Public Service is installing hydrogen production capacity at its three-unit Palo Verde plant to generate about 200 megawatt hours of electricity during times of high grid demand and low solar power.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Development (OCED) chose the Navajo Transitional Energy Company (NTEC) to receive significant funding to study the feasibility of converting the existing Four Corners Power Plant to carbon capture (CCUS). This technology holds the promise of reducing carbon emissions from the power plant below that of even natural gas fired generation.

The Navajo Mine and the FCCP together provide a third of the Navajo Nation’s annual General Fund so the ability to convert the plant to clean energy will ensure vital funding to the Nation and all its citizens.

Clean energy offers a path to economic prosperity for our tribe by securing new companies. It will pay rich rewards for us to understand the clean-energy opportunities before us.


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