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If Northern Arizona Coal Plant Closes Soon, Group Looks To New Industries To Replace Jobs

Published: Monday, January 16, 2017 - 3:22pm
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Industries across America are changing, especially when it comes to energy sources. So, when news broke that the Navajo Generating Station might shut down in just a few years, it wasn’t too much of a surprise.

But, closing the coal-fired power plant also means that a lot of workers in northern Arizona and on the Navajo Nation would lose their jobs.

The plant itself employs about 500 people, but the effect of closing the plant could kind of trickle out.

“The Black Mesa Mine outside Kayenta, Arizona, provides the coal to that power plant,” said John Stigmon, president of the Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona. “So, if the power plant shuts down, it affects directly the workers of the power plant, but it also directly affects the workers of the Black Mesa Mine. We’re talking probably 7-800 people that could be losing their jobs.”

Navajo Nation officials are estimating it could be more like 2,400 jobs, according to the Arizona Daily Sun.

The Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona is already working with Coconino Council Supervisor Lena Fowler on an economic study to come up with a plan to replace these jobs in the future.

Earlier this month, the plant’s owners — which include the Salt River Project and Arizona Public Service — said they are trying to decide whether or not to keep the plant open.

This is a coal plant that emits more greenhouse gases than almost any other plant in the country. The lease is set to expire in 2019, and, with the costs of new environmental regulations plus falling fuel prices, they’re not sure it will be worth it to keep it open after that. They may even close it sooner.

Stigmon said the potential shortened timeline is making things a lot harder for them right now.

“Originally, we were looking at maybe possible 10 years out. Now we’re looking at maybe a few years out, so we’re really starting to scramble,” he said.

Fowler organized an economic development conference in order to get input from everyone in the area about the impact of the plant. And, since, Stigmon said they’re doing focus groups with various interested parties, like the Page Chamber of Commerce and Navajo chapter communities.

“What we’re trying to isolate, number one, is what types of industries could fit there,” he said. “As we’re doing that, we’re looking at the actual geography of Page, where it sits, what could fit there, how much land is available for like industrial development, things like that.”

Stigmon also said that Page is located two and a half hours from the nearest interstate, so finding industries that can fit there is a challenge.

And, he said, these aren’t low-wage jobs that can be easily replaced.

“Many, many of those workers in the Navajo Generating Station are actually Navajos that live on the Navajo Nation. And they’re extremely well-paying jobs,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of those workers there support extended families on the Navajo Nation and so it has a far-reaching affect.”

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