Reliable power, affordable water and good jobs are essential elements of Arizona’s productive economy. Without these fundamentals, not much else matters.
For Navajo and Hopi people, preserving skilled jobs and tribal revenues to keep their economies running matters a lot. Yet these sovereign nations face a very real economic threat in the months ahead. We should all pay far more attention to the alarming economic impacts that early closure of the Navajo Generating Station will have on Navajo and Hopi people. They are the ones who have offered their land and energy resources to sustain our economy for decades.
They are the backbone of the supply system for Arizona’s energy and water. These traditional families in the northernmost part of our state clearly have the most to lose if the plant is forced to shut down decades before Congress intended. We cannot allow this to happen. When the late U.S. Sen. Carl Hayden, D-Ariz., led the effort to create the Central Arizona Project in the 1960s, the federal government loaned about $4 billion. The Central Arizona Project has an obligation to the federal government – and the American taxpayer – to repay the construction debt, which remains north of $1 billion. Revenues that come from the sale of surplus power are used for that purpose. Why would we retire the asset the federal government designed to pay back the debt?
It makes no sense to close the Navajo Generating Station more than 20 years ahead of schedule. Without baseload power from the Navajo Generating Station, our electric grid becomes less reliable, and we will certainly lose thousands of direct and indirect jobs, many of which are held by Native Americans.The value of these jobs is spread far and wide across tribal communities, supporting immediate and extended families. Remember, the Navajo Generating Station was developed on tribal lands to create economic opportunity for tribal people, enabling workers to support their families and communities on their traditional homeland. These jobs keep families connected and preserve cultural ways that span centuries. The mine and the power plant also play a crucial role generating revenues that keep tribal governments funded. At risk are 85 percent of the Hopi general fund and 22 percent of the Navajo general budget. Early closure would severely impact governments, curtailing necessary services like schools, police and fire protection.The silver lining to all of this is the path ahead. One company, Middle River Power, has started key negotiations with the utility owners and other stakeholders to acquire the plant. The company has worked through late stage diligence and believes it can achieve dramatic efficiencies and cost savings that would enable the plant to operate well into the future. That is good news.
One thing needed to secure the deal is assurance that the Central Arizona Project remains the plant’s reliable customer. A recent lawsuit seeks to force the CAP board to honor its decades-old statutory requirement to use power from the Navajo Generating Station. Stakeholders also are calling on the CAP board for a 90-day moratorium on the process to procure power from sources other than the Navajo Generating Station.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke supports the effort as well. That’s important, given the U.S. Interior essentially owns 25 percent of the plant and intends to maintain its position long-term. With Interior leading, others should follow.
The Navajo Generating Station was built at the direction of the federal government to serve as a power source for the Central Arizona Project, pumping water from northern sources to families, farmers and many tribes across the state. Much of Arizona’s growth and prosperity has come from the access to this water.
We can’t lose sight of the value the Navajo Generating Station provides to so many. We must recognize the federal trust responsibility to protect tribal people, preserve the economic strength of Navajo and Hopi economies and keep families strong. Let’s work together to make it happen. It’s time to say “Yes to NGS.”
— David Farnsworth, a Republican, is a member of the Arizona State Senate and chairs the Finance Committee
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.