An Equitable Energy Transition for the Navajo Nation

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

In December, the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station power plant was demolished after nearly 20 years of activism by tribal members. Now, the challenge is transitioning to clean energy while establishing an equitable relationship between energy and the Navajo Nation. For Diné activist Nicole Horseherder, whose organizing helped close the coal plant, that work includes getting support from utilities and industry to make the transition. One Arizona utility company has pledged $144 million for the Navajo and other nearby communities. If approved, it would be the largest sum for equitable transition in the U.S.

 “We’re trying to compel them to provide some kind of transition support for the Navajo Nation instead of just walking away and leaving — leaving the NGS plant and leaving the communities behind,” Horseherder told High Country News. 

Why this Matters: The shift in Navajo Nation from a coal power plant harming the local community to clean energy putting investment back into the community is an example of an equitable transition in action. With transition funding, Diné entrepreneurs can lead the new energy companies that invest back into the Navajo Nation, breaking from old colonialist mindsets around energy on Native land. And there’s a concerted effort to change the entire model, not just who’s in charge. 

Energy is a dangerous game to get into,” Andrew Curley, a Diné scholar and assistant professor at the University of Arizona who studies the relationship between coal and the Navajo Nation, told High Country News. “If you do clean energy in a colonial setting, you’re still in a colonial setting.” 

Solar already powering homes

The first solar facility on the Navajo Nation is already up and running, powering 36,000 homes. The former power plant operators may buy up to 200 megawatts of solar from the Navajo Nation. After years of sending Los Angeles power, the city and tribe are working together to turn the old power plant site into a renewable energy hub. 

And there are more projects in the solar pipeline: 

Nonprofit Native Renewables is focused on the self-resiliency of off-grid solar projects and provides education and workforce training programs focused on solar energy.

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