Does it Have to be Coal?
Report says there are alternatives to the Desert Rock power plant
By Kyra Gurney
Navajo grassroots organizations continue to chip away at a Desert Rock coal-fired plant. Meanwhile, supporters maintain the proposed power plant will provide much-needed revenue for the Navajo Nation. The latest installment in the battle is 160 pages long.
The report, released Jan. 18, compares the effects of clean energy production on the Navajo Nation with the proposed coal-fired plant. Economic benefits as well as possible environmental and health impacts were considered by national scientific research facility Ecos Consulting and the Navajo organization Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment (Diné CARE).
Dailan Long of Diné CARE says the report was a response to an environmental impact statement released by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs that did not consider alternatives to the coal plant. "It limited the scope of the Navajo Nation to coal development only," says Long. "The Navajo people were calling for something different than power plants."
Four months of scientific research and consultations with Navajo organizations went into the report. "What we found is these people had been talking about sustainability and the need to go back to have the most sustainable practices on the Navajo Nation and have a real shift away from the energy paradigm that has wreaked havoc on our people."
The research determined that alternative energy sources, namely solar and wind power, could provide more jobs and cause less of a negative impact on the environment than the coal-fired plant. Developing clean energy, according to the report, would create 80 percent more construction jobs and five times as many long-term employment opportunities. The use of clean energy, says Long, is in line with the Navajo Fundamental Laws. These guiding principles of the Navajo people were used as a foundation for the report.
The report also states that, unlike Desert Rock, clean energy production on the Navajo Nation could be used to power Navajo homes. The power from Desert Rock would be exported to urban areas, such as Las Vegas and Phoenix, and the Navajo people would have no access to it. In a nation where 60 percent live without power, this could be one of the strongest arguments in favor of alternative energy.
Frank Maisano of Sithe Global, the plant's developer, says that while he agrees renewable energy projects should be a part of the Navajo Nation's development plan, coal-fired plants are beneficial as well. "The reality is we have to have all of these things together, and that's the difference between what we have as a vision and what they [Diné CARE] have as a vision: We have a much wider view." Maisano argues the bottom line for the Navajo people is economic benefit. He says Desert Rock will produce $50 million in revenue and provide "tremendous economic benefits" for the Navajo Nation.
Now that their report is finished, Diné CARE’s next move will be to meet with the Navajo government to discuss alternative energy development. Joshua Lavar Butler, press officer for speaker of the Navajo Nation Council, Lawrence Morgan, says the speaker has yet to review the report but is open to the possibility of clean energy.
Long says even though Navajo President Shirley seems determined to continue with Desert Rock, many Navajo leaders are interested in alternatives. “We’re on a roll,” says Long. “We’re really confident this project [Desert Rock] is going nowhere.”
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