Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez announced in October that the tribe would be taking control of the substation. Nez did not specify at the time how the tribe would make use of the substation, only that it has contracted with an outside firm to advise it as the nation neared the December 23 takeover. An SRP spokesman said the company will continue to pay for the operation and maintenance of the substation for the next decade. Even though the plant is gone, the Navajo Nation will still get payments from SRP for the property. An SRP spokesman said the company was paying $600,000 a year in lease payments to the tribe, and will give a one-time payment of $110 million, which would be about $3 million a year if stretched out over the new 35-year lease. Mine owner Peabody Energy did not lay out a specific reclamation timeline for the Kayenta Mine, except to say in an email that it is expected to take several years. That is less time than it could have taken, a Peabody spokesperson said, because of the company’s “contemporaneous approach” to reclamation that cut down on the overall number of acres it will have to restore. Peabody noted that it received the National Award for Excellence in Reclamation from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in October for its work at Kayenta. In a video, the agency praised Peabody’s efforts to plant juniper bushes on the site, and for converting some reclaimed land into grazing pasture. But local environmental activists are not impressed. They claim the vegetation being planted as part of the reclamation project was chosen for how fast it can take root rather than whether it’s appropriate for the area. Peabody officials disagreed, saying regulators’ oversight of the site reclamation is thorough, with checks required before seeding and for at least 10 years after. In a statement, the company said it has been a “good steward and a great neighbor …. We’ve returned lands to a higher value and will continue to do so throughout the reclamation phase.” While work to disassemble the complex proceeds, environmental groups in the region are pushing to take steps away from its history altogether. A coalition of Navajo environmental groups this fall announced the #NavajoEquitableEconomy initiative laying out plans and policies to move the Navajo Nation away from coal and towards more renewable sources of energy.
Nicole Horseherder is a board member with one of those groups, To Nizhoni Ani, which has partnered with Oakland-based nonprofit Native Renewables to train members of the Navajo Nation for jobs in solar installation. In December, the partnership graduated 10 students from a weeks-long solar workforce training program. “We’re trying to mitigate the closure and get ready for the future,” Horseherder said. “Otherwise other people will take those jobs, and for us that usually means outsiders.” In April, Nez issued a Hayoolkaal – or “sunrise” – proclamation calling for the Navajo to diversify its energy portfolio and restore lands used for coal and uranium mining. A bill declaring the tribe’s intent to do so died in a Navajo Nation Council committee in October, however. In that same month, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority opened a second solar facility in Kayenta with the help of SRP, which said the tribe can now generate enough solar power to serve 36,000 homes. The nation and SRP continue to discuss possible future projects, a company spokesman said in an email. For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.
This morning, our administration’s Háyoołkááł Work Group is meeting to continue strategizing for the long-term vision, priorities, and current proposals related to energy development of the Navajo Nation. #UnityHopeResilience #WorkingTogether pic.twitter.com/q7mHktY8Wo— Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez (@NNPrezNez) December 26, 2019
Note: This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal. It originally appeared on Cronkite News and is published via a Creative Commons license. Cronkite News is produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.