Long running coal plant on Navajo Nation stops production

By Felicia Fonseca, The Canadian Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A massive coal-fired power plant that served customers in the West for nearly 50 years shut down Monday, the latest closure in a shift away from coal and toward renewable energy and cheaper power.

The Navajo Generating Station near the Arizona-Utah line was expected to shutter by the end of the year, but the exact day hadn’t been certain as the plant worked to deplete a stockpile of coal.

It stopped producing electricity shortly after noon Monday when shift supervisor Fred Larson, a 41-year employee, put the plant permanently offline.

“It will be hard for people because for employees, there’s a lot of pride, a lot of passion for their work, and they have put their heart and soul in this plant,” said Paul Ostapuk, who oversees safety and environment at the plant.

The 2,250-megawatt, three-unit plant was one of the largest in the U.S. West and had long been a target of environmentalists, who argued it polluted the air and contributed to health problems. Cheaper prices for power produced by natural gas, rather than environmental regulations, led the owners to decide in 2017 to close it.

Decommissioning will take up to three years, after which the land is supposed to be returned to the condition it was before the plant was built.

Steve Yazzie, a former power plant employee who now works for a tribal energy company, said biologists from the Navajo Nation and the Salt River Project, which operates the plant, recently met to talk about reseeding the land with plants used for dying wool, making tea and traditional medicines.

Reclamation work also is being done at Peabody Energy’s Kayenta Mine, which pulled coal from land owned by the Navajo and Hopi tribes. It closed months ahead of the power plant because it had no other customers.

Smoke-like plumes that rise from the top of the concrete stacks disappeared. Workers turned their attention to shutting down the boiler, draining water and oil from the lines, shutting off fans and other duties.

The remaining employees’ last day will be Thursday. A small crew will stay on as support for contractors who will work on demolition.

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