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Navajo coal plant deal expected soon, nation president says

russell-begaye-webNavajo Nation President Russell Begaye has said a proposed deal has been reached to keep an electricity-generating reservation coal plant open until 2020.

Begaye told dozens of happy coal miners Monday that the temporary lease-extension agreement is being considered by the Salt River Project utility. It operates the plant and is one of its owners.

Utility board members on Thursday will consider the lease, which must also be approved by the Navajo tribal council.

Salt River Project had said it would close the plant this year if a new lease could not be finalized by July 1.

The plant was threatened with closure because its owners concluded it is cheaper to buy electricity from natural gas-fired power plants.

Losing the plant would have been an economic blow to the region because 450 people, mostly Native Americans, have jobs at the plant.

Former Hopi Chairman Ivan Sydney, who now serves on a Hopi school board, said he was concerned the closure of the plant would negatively affect children.

“What are they going to do when their parents no longer have jobs?” he said.

Begaye said he hopes to find new owners to run the plant for nine more years after the proposed agreement expires.

Environmentalists support the plant’s closure, saying new solar or wind projects should be developed to supply the electricity that the plant produces.

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