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Peabody says potential buyers could keep Navajo Generating Station open

The coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in northeast Arizona provides almost 1,000 jobs between the plant and the mine that supplies it, but the plant's operators have said they plan to shut it down after 2019. (Photo by Amber Brown/Courtesy SRP)

The coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in northeast Arizona provides almost 1,000 jobs between the plant and the mine that supplies it, but the plant’s operators have said they plan to shut it down after 2019. (Photo by Amber Brown/Courtesy SRP)

Navajo leaders expressed hope October 2 that the Navajo Generating Station will be able to continue operations past 2019, after Peabody Energy said it had come up with a list of potential investors in the plant.

Peabody, which mines the coal to power the plant, did not identify the prospective buyers it presented to plant owner Salt River Project, but called them “highly qualified potential investors” who expressed interest in ownership beyond 2019.

SRP officials said that they will work with any potential buyers, but for now they are still planning on a 2019 decommissioning.

But Navajo Nation officials welcomed the possibility that the plant could be saved, along with the thousands of jobs it and the nearby Kayenta Mine provide to that part of the state.

“Navajo Generating Station, along with Peabody, provides significant employment opportunities as well as a great amount of revenue flowing to the nation,” said Mihio Manus, a Navajo Nation spokesman.

SRP said the coal-fired plant is no longer cost-effective to operate, a victim of falling natural gas prices that have made coal less competitive, and announced plans earlier this year to shut the plant by 2019. SRP said it would be willing to sell the plant to another operator, but set an October 1 deadline for prospective buyers to come forth.

Scott Harelson, a spokesman for SRP, said that “the NGS owners will continue to work with the Navajo, and others as appropriate, with regard to potential purchasers of the plant.” But in the meantime, he said, the utility will continue to plan for a 2019 decommissioning through capital investments in contractors, and plans to decommission.

Harelson said the October 1 deadline was not a hard deadline, but that the process needed to be started sooner rather than later. Names of potential buyers have not been released because of a non-disclosure agreement, said Harelson.

“If someone showed interest in three months we would be willing to work with them,” Harelson said. “We have a lease to run the plant through 2019, but we have to begin moving forward with the decommissioning – it’s not just a transfer of assets.”

Harelson also said that any new owners would have to negotiate a lease with the Navajo Nation, and win environmental approval from the federal government, which could take years.

Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world, has been fighting to keep the plant open since SRP announced the closure in February.

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