Guest Column: Replacement lease for NGS a challenging issue

By LoRenzo Bates
Navajo Nation Council

On May 24, I introduced Legislation No. 0194-17, which seeks the Navajo Nation’s approval of a replacement lease for Navajo Generating Station to allow the power plant to remain in operation until December 22, 2019, rather than to begin shutting down in July.

From the very beginning of this process, I said to my Council colleagues and to the public that this would be a very challenging issue to decide and that remains true to this day. As with any other controversial issues, we have those who support and those who oppose the legislation.

As the sponsor of this bill, I have striven to present the facts as clearly and directly as possible to the public, to my colleagues, and to everyone who has questioned the issue.

On several occasions, at the request of communities, grassroots groups, and workers at NGS and Kayenta Mine, my Council colleagues and I have accepted invitations to visit the impacted communities to engage with them, to provide information, to answer their questions, and respond to their concerns.

Recently, a group of concerned Navajo citizens requested to meet with me to share their concerns over this issue. We met for over an hour at the speaker’s office, sharing our views and engaging in meaningful dialogue. While they stated that they do not oppose the proposed legislation because they understand the negative impacts that shutting down NGS this year would have, they called on leadership to take a closer look at renewable energy sources in the long term.

In response, and as I have stated numerous times, the Navajo Nation through its enterprises is on the path of developing and expanding renewable energy for the benefit of the Nation. I commend NTUA for the recent completion of the Nation’s first large-scale solar facility, which has the capacity to produce 27.3 megawatts of electricity. General Manager Walter Haase has made it clear that NTUA plans to expand its renewable energy development.

Through the proposed replacement lease agreement, the Nation would gain ownership of two transmission lines at the NGS site that are capable of transmitting a combined total of 500 megawatts of electricity through a large portion of the state. This presents an opportunity for NTUA to expand its renewable energy development and the opportunity to sell electricity on the open market.

This is one example of how the Navajo Nation is pursuing other sources of energy aside from the burning of coal and the Council and the speaker’s office will continue supporting such initiatives. We are not opposed to renewable energy, but we know that it takes time to transition and that we must maintain a balance between coal energy and renewable energy as we transition between now and 2019 and beyond.

The Navajo Nation has depended on coal energy production for many years now and it is not something that the Nation can suddenly turn away from without considering the impacts to our revenue, the jobs, and many other effects to our Nation and the state of Arizona.
By approving the proposed replacement lease, it will allow at least two years for our people, our communities, and our government to prepare and to advance our plans for renewable energy and economic opportunities.

Looking beyond 2019, the leaders of the Navajo Nation will have to consider the path that our Nation will take and determine what it will take to get there.

The owners have requested that the Nation make a determination on the future of NGS beyond 2019 no later than Oct. 1, 2017. This will be the next step that will have to be considered by the Navajo Nation. Securing a new owner would be another challenging task, if that is the path the Nation chooses to pursue.

In order to finalize an agreement, the Council must also consider the waivers that the NGS owners are requesting of the Nation. To this point, several of my colleagues have been very adamant about their opposition to certain waiver language and have issued several amendments to the proposed agreement that the owners will have to consider. I respect the views and concerns of my colleagues and I will respect the decision of this Council at the end of the day.

As this legislation moves through the process, we have also taken into account the large quantity of pubic comments that have been submitted, which are attached to the legislation for review. We began accepting public comments on May 24 and we will continue accepting public comments up until the legislation goes to the Council for final consideration.

To this point, several standing committees have considered the legislation and the Council is now scheduled to consider the legislation during a special session on June 26 beginning at 1 p.m. at the Department of Diné Education in Window Rock. The speaker’s office is working with the Office of Broadcast Services to ensure that live streaming of the special session will be available to the public.

As we proceed with a final decision, I thank our people, our constituents, and our communities for engaging with my Council colleagues and I and I ask that we continue to be respectful and receptive to one another’s views and statements. This is a very challenging issue for our Nation’s leaders to consider.

On behalf of the Navajo Nation Council, we thank you for your support and encourage you to continue being a part of this conversation.

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Categories: Guest Essay