In May of 2017, the #solar plant in #Kayenta started to generate solar #energy, making it the first plant of utility scale ever built on #Navajo Nation territory. The plant uses 120,000 solar panels and is owned by #Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. The solar panels are capable of powering the homes of 13,000 Navajo families.
A year has passed and now the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is proposing two new and exciting solar projects on Navajo Nation territory. One of the projects is actually an extension of the existing solar plant, so one can’t consider it a standalone solar plant.
The new solar array will be, of course, placed right next to the solar plant in Kayenta and will double the plant’s capacity. The Kayenta plant will be able to output 55 megawatts, so it will be able to power not just 13,000 but more than 25,000 Navajo homes. The extension is scheduled to begin somewhere in August.
Big Things Coming in 2020
The second #solar project – which is arguably the more exciting of the two – is proposed to be built near Gray Mountain, just under an hour to Flagstaff. Last month, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority officials unveiled the plans for the solar plant in front of 25 residents at a #Cameron Chapter meeting. It looks like the plant will have a solar capacity somewhere between 100 and 150 megawatts. In other words, it will be able to provide electricity to at least 20000 Navajo homes. The operations are planned to start in 2020, although the exact date is not clear.
An interesting fact is that Derek Dyson, a spokesperson for Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA), stated the project is more than just a new solar plant. It is meant to open the way for upgrades to the electricity infrastructure, and for the establishment of new communications and water infrastructure. All these development would be extended to the houses in the area around the solar plant.
In addition to these developments for homeowners and land owners, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is already negotiating with a tech company to move its operations near the new power plant and take advantage of cheap solar energy. According to Walter Haase, the general manager of NTUA, the tech company would hire local workers, creating more jobs in the process.
According to #Walter Haase, the solar project was not developed to increase the renewable energy generation capacity. At the time of writing, Navajo Nation customers are already getting 35-55% of their energy from renewable sources like hydropower and wind turbines. Haase suggests the solar panels are more useful as an economic tool.
Solar energy is, after all, a product. And all products can be sold. What the Navajo utilities company is trying to do is sell solar energy and bring the revenue back into the reservation. The utilities company plans to use the money it makes from selling solar energy to maintain its low rates and to expand its infrastructure and provide coverage to another 15,000 homes which (at the time of writing) do not have access to electricity.
The Gray Mountain solar project is at this time still in its infancy. However, according to official sources, it has already obtained all the permissions necessary to move forward. They have obtained permission from the grazing leaseholder and from the grazing official of the chapter. Also, the chapter has allowed the Navajo utilities company to run a feasibility study – then, they will place solar panels on a maximum area of 5,000 acres of Navajo Chapter territory.
Although the project has received all the permissions it requires, the tribal members stated they want to ensure the solar project is really beneficial to the Navajo Nation people.
For example, resident Stanley Robbins said that even though he supports the solar project, he would like to see the company make an effort to appeal to the people. For example, he said, they could install a small solar array on the roof of the chapter house. Alternatively, the company could build a solar-powered water pump for the tribe’s livestock.
#Milton Tso, the Cameron Chapter president, clearly communicated he wants to negotiate with the utilities company so the Cameron Chapter receives a percentage of the lease revenue the taxes revenue. According to Tso, many residents no longer hold much trust in Window Rock central government.
Jobs and Coverage: Appealing Perks
However, Milton Tso was pleased by the utilities company’s claim that they will use the money to develop the infrastructure and to extend their coverage to another 15,000 homes which are, at the time of writing, without electricity. Also, the prospect of new jobs is very appealing.
However, it is important to note the development of the solar plant does not guarantee there will be developments in the communication and water infrastructure. According to Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, developing the very important energy infrastructure will make it easier for the other infrastructure to be expanded. However, they have no way of guaranteeing it.
Some residents are afraid the solar plan project will never be completed. It has happened before. Roughly 10 years ago, two companies were planning to build an impressive wind farm on Navajo Nation land. However, after years of heated debate and various controversies between the Cameron Chapter and the central tribal government, the project was abandoned.
According to Tso, the situation now is different. Navajo Tribal Utility Authority has already built a solar farm on Navajo Nation land and has taken all the necessary steps to secure permissions from the chapter. This is a very good start, but there are still several more steps to take, including going through a site lease procedure. However, the result will be worth it. The new solar plant will be able to produce solar energy cheaper than the Kayenta plant due to advancements in the solar technology industry and its larger size. The proposed pricing is very competitive, according to Haase, which gives him great hope that this project will be a success.