(Reuters) - The Hopi Tribe this week called on the U.S. government to explore options to keep the Navajo coal-fired power plant in Arizona in service after a potential buyer of the plant decided not to pursue ownership:
** Middle River Power, which had been exploring the purchase of the plant, said last week it will no longer pursue a bid for the facility in part because of difficulty finding enough buyers for the plant’s power, according to local news.
** The plant, which is one of the biggest employers for the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation, is set to close at the end of 2019.
** “The United States Government must either continue to buy power from (Navajo), or provide the Hopi Tribe with support necessary to avoid an economic catastrophe,” Clark Tenakhongva, vice chairman of the Hopi Tribe, said in a statement, noting the plant shutdown would “sharply increase unemployment.”
** The three units at the 2,250-megawatt Navajo plant entered service between 1974 and 1976. One megawatt can power about 1,000 U.S. homes.
** The plant was built to provide energy to pump water from the Colorado River to consumers in central Arizona for the Central Arizona Project (CAP).
** At one point CAP received more than 90 percent of its power from Navajo, but the cost of power from the facility has increased relative to other supplies in the region, and CAP has increasingly turned to other sources of electricity.
** That change in power costs largely reflects the availability of cheap and plentiful natural gas and the rapid growth in renewable generation.
** President Donald Trump’s administration has been waging a broad effort to keep aging coal and nuclear plants from retirement, arguing that their closure would constitute a threat to national energy security.
** But dozens of coal plants and several nuclear reactors are still expected to shut in coming years, unable to compete with cheaper alternatives like gas and wind and solar.
** Salt River Project, which owns 42.9 percent of Navajo, operates the plant for its other owners, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (24.3 percent), Arizona Public Service (14.0 percent), NV Energy (11.3 percent) and Tucson Electric Power (7.5 percent).
** The four non-federal utility owners decided in February 2017 to continue operating the plant until the end of its lease in December 2019.
Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Steve Orlofsky