Navajos set to tap power of the wind
By Dennis Wagner and Ryan Randazzo
The Arizona Republic, MARCH. 28, 2008
Hundreds of windmills reaching nearly 400 feet into
the sky could begin sprouting on the Navajo Reservation
north of Flagstaff under a new agreement to harness
wind energy for electrical use.
The Navajo Nation announced Thursday
that it will partner with a Boston company to capitalize
on the blustery conditions prevailing on the high mesas
of northern Arizona. The Diné Wind Project, which
would be the first commercial wind farm in the state,
calls for Citizens Energy Corp. to invest millions of
dollars to build the energy-collecting towers.
The enterprise was sealed this month
by Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., other key
tribal officials and Citizens Energy Chairman Joseph
P. Kennedy II, a former congressman and son of the late
U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy. The agreement
comes after nearly two years of pre-development work
and marks another step in the Navajo Nation's move to
exploit renewable-power sources for so-called clean
In a news release Thursday, Shirley said the wind-gathering
effort will "bring prosperity for the Navajo people
and build our energy independence while providing jobs
and other benefits for the Navajo Nation."
The operation is planned in the Gray
Mountain area west of U.S. 89, about 50 miles north
The tribe and its Diné Power
Authority become partners in a joint enterprise known
as Citizens Enterprise Corp., a subsidiary of Citizens
Energy. Deswood Tome, a Navajo Nation spokesman, said
the project is expected to generate 500 megawatts of
electricity, enough to serve an estimated 100,000 households.
As many as 300 turbine towers would be erected in several
locations between Flagstaff and Tuba City, with first-phase
completion in about three years.
The development would be among the largest
wind-power installations in the country, said Bob Gough,
secretary of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy
in Rosebud, S.D. The largest is near Abilene, Texas,
which produces 736 megawatts. A cluster of separate
wind farms near Palm Springs, Calif., contains thousands
Gough said the Navajo Nation has some
of the stiffest winds for turbines in Arizona, adding,
"They've instrumented the Gray Mountain area, and
on maps it probably shows the best resource in Arizona.
That area also is the site of transmission lines coming
out of the Four Corners region."
Citizens Energy has been involved
in renewable-electricity development for three decades,
according to the company's Web site, and began working
on wind projects in 2003, including other joint ventures
with tribes in the United States and Canada. The Diné
Wind Project would be the nation's largest Native American
wind project.Roger Freeman, managing director of the
wind project for Citizens Energy, said via e-mail that
the wind towers would be 260 feet tall, with blades
reaching an additional 135 feet above ground. Freeman
emphasized that the company is committed to developing
energy "in an environmentally responsible manner,
including consideration for cultural impacts and respect
for tribal sacred sites."
Tome said he is not aware of opposition
to the development plan. Citizens' Web site says company
and Navajo leaders have worked to involve local tribal
members in planning efforts.
Andy Bessler, a Sierra Club Southwest
representative, said his group has not taken a formal
position on the wind-farm project but welcomes Navajo
efforts to exploit a renewable-power source that won't
add to global warming.
"I think there will be 'viewshed'
issues," Bessler said, noting that windmill orchards
are perceived as eyesores by some. "But the local
community members are very supportive."
Don Steuter, another Sierra Club representative,
said studies must be done to determine whether the project
threatens wildlife, including endangered California
condors that patrol the Grand Canyon area.
Steuter said wind farms have posed a
threat to birds of prey. Still, environmentalists encourage
clean-energy efforts, Steuter said. "We have been
encouraging the tribe to move in that direction."
For 30 years, a mine at Black Mesa on
the reservation was operated by Peabody Western Coal
Co., piping coal slurry to the Mohave Generating Plant
in Nevada for energy production. That mine closed in
2006 after Southern California Edison shut down the
power plant rather than pay $1 billion for environmental
work and other upgrades.
The Navajo Nation has not abandoned
coal as an economic resource, however. The tribe is
struggling to develop a new coal-fired power plant near
Farmington, N.M.,which developers hope will sell energy
to Phoenix or Las Vegas.
Precise terms of the Citizens Enterprises
compact were not divulged. But a tribal news release
says Navajos will have "a significant ownership
stake" in developments, reaping $60 million to
$100 million over the project's lifetime.
No cost estimate was released for development.
Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American
Wind Energy Association, said expenses range from $1.5
million to $1.8 million per megawatt of wind power produced.
That would put the project's value at
$750 million to $900 million, although rising steel
prices could increase those figures, Real de Azua said.
Two utilities serving the Valley, Salt
River Project and Arizona Public Service Co., would
seem likely buyers because they already purchase wind
power generated in New Mexico. But the Diné project
was news to both on Thursday.
"They have not come to talk to
us about it," APS spokesman Jim McDonald said,
adding that the utility is seeking alternative electricity
to meet a state requirement to supply more renewable
"It would be ideal if it came in
at a price that was competitive," McDonald added.
SRP has a similar requirement.
"If the Navajo Nation were to build
a project of this size, we would consider looking into
it," SRP spokesman Scott Harelson said.