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The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) opened a large-scale solar farm near Kayenta, Arizona. The 27.3-megawatt Kayenta Solar Project provides enough power for 10,000 homes.

The $64 million solar plant project is funded, in part, by federal loans and tax credits. It is the first large-scale renewable energy project to benefit the Navajo Nation.

The operation of the solar power plant is a welcome development. It is a desperately needed alternative to the pending closure of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station, a 2250-megawatt power plant located on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Page, Arizona. While the new solar farm is seen as a welcome development by clean energy proponents, it does leave some questions hanging.

For one, the economy of the Navajo reservation is heavily dependent on the Navajo Generating Station. The operators of the coal-fired plant announced their intention to close the plant in 2019, which is twenty-five years earlier than expected. Navajo President Russell Begaye said the news was’ like a ton of bricks that landed in Window Rock’, the capital of the Navajo nation. The impending closure, he claimed, was announced with no warning at all.

The second question on the table concerns the ability of the solar farm to fully replace the coal plant in terms of capacity. No one is certain if the solar farm will be sufficient.  The closing of the Navajo Generating Station is expected to leave a hole in the region’s power generation, it is hoped the Kayenta Solar Project will be able to fill the gap. Kayenta Solar Project manager Glenn Steiger believes that the shortfall will ultimately be met by different renewable energy sources, including solar.

Salt River Project Fund Navajo Solar Farm

The NTUA entered into an agreement for the development of the utility-scale project with the Salt River Project, a community-based non-profit utility that serves the Phoenix area. The $64 million solar plant project is funded, in part, by federal loans and tax credits. It is the first large-scale renewable energy project to benefit the Navajo Nation.

solar panels in Monument Valley.

The solar farm presents economic development and job creation opportunities for the Navajo nation. It is the primary utility in the Navajo nation and is considered an important step in the development of a green economy. The solar farm opens the opportunity to many Navajo families who will have access to electricity for the first time in many years. It brings to the tribe a large-scale renewable energy project.

During the initial phase of the solar farm’s operations, the Navajo nation will continue to get their power supply from the Navajo Generating Station. Navajo Nation President Begaye signed a lease extension with the coal-fired plant to continue its operations through December 2019. This means also that the 700 jobs at the coal-fired plant near Page will not be immediately lost.

The plan is to have the solar farm up and running as the Navajo Generating Station winds down its operation. The start of the operations of the solar farm will give the Navajo Nation enough time to gain substantial experience in running it.

The Navajo Nation is looking forward to more bold projects like this in the future.