With coal dying, Arizona utility offers $169 million deal with Navajo

A train cuts across the scrubby Southwest.

Enlarge / This electric train carried coal from the mines to the Navajo Generating Station, which has now shut down. (credit: Bill Morrow / Flickr)

The physics of climate change dictate that we must move on from fossil fuels to avoid expensive and deadly consequences, but that shift obviously comes with pain for communities and businesses tied to the fossil fuel industry. This may bring to mind coal-mining communities in places like Kentucky and West Virginia, but it’s also playing out across the Navajo and Hopi lands in Arizona and New Mexico.

There are several coal plants located in or near the Navajo Nation, fed by associated coal mines, and staffed by Navajo and Hopi workers—a major source of jobs. Of these, the Navajo Generating Station and Kayenta mine has already shuttered, while the Cholla Power Plant is shutting down over the next few years. The Four Corners plant in New Mexico has seen its planned 2031 retirement date accelerated.

There are several reasons for this. Older coal plants have been retiring across the US as the economics favor cheaper natural gas and renewables. Additionally, the electric utility Arizona Public Service (APS), which owns part of each of these three plants, had a change in leadership at the beginning of the year. New CEO Jeff Guldner announced a plan for the utility to reach zero emissions by 2050, with 45 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2030. That was a shocking reversal considering that APS spent nearly $40 million to fight a 2018 ballot proposition that would have required 50 percent renewables by 2030.

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