Solar energy a good idea

By Vernon Masayesva
Navajo Times
June 1, 2006

KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz., - I look forward to a future for the Colorado Plateau, ancient homeland of the Hopi people, that is radically different from the one envisioned by the federal government when the Four Corners area was informally designated as a “national sacrifice area” in the 1960s and 1970s.

The closure of Mohave Generating Station, the dirtiest power plant in the country, on Dec. 31, 2005, has produced new opportunities that will change the course of history for the Hopi people and our neighbors, Indian and non-Indian alike.

My purpose here is to draw your attention to the recently completed Study of Potential Mohave Alternative/Complementary Generation Resources, which examines the feasibility of building a solar energy plant on Black Mesa.

The study was ordered by the California Public Utilities Commission in its decision to shut down Mohave. The commission was spurred by a proposal, put forward by Black Mesa Trust and Water & Energy Consulting to build two 400 MW solar generation facilities on Black Mesa – on tribal lands and with benefits accruing to the tribes.

The study found that our plan is not only feasible but a good idea.

Sargent & Lundy, the firm that conducted the study, outlines several points in favor of the technology we propose to use – technology developed and then sold off by the operators of the Mohave plant.

Here are the key findings of the Sargent & Lundy study:

  • Stirling Energy Systems, which now owns the technology, has already entered into a commercial contract for solar power with Southern California Edison, principal owner of Mohave;
  • The project has low capital investment and maintenance costs;
  • It uses very little water;
  • It does not produce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide;
  • The transmission capacity already exists to get the power to the market;
  • Federal incentives are included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to foster such projects on Indian lands.

Stirling’s engine/dish technology was initially developed by SCE, then sold to an outside company, and subsequently purchased by Stirling, which has continued to improve the concept and the hardware. Considering California’s requirement that 20 percent of the electricity used in the state come from renewable energy sources by 2017 – just over a decade from now – the Stirling engine/dish solar proposal becomes a win-win project.

The Hopi and Navajo tribes would gain a revenue source that respects our values, including preservation of land and water for future generations, and California ratepayers would get renewable, non-polluting energy at a competitive price.

The proposal Stirling solar project would produce 1000 MW of electricity (enough to power 650,000 homes during the day), provide 2,400 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs, and inject $7 million into the Hopi and Navajo economies.

Another reason for my optimism is that the California utility regulators on May 11 granted our request to require SCE to set aside any revenues generated by the sale of sulfur dioxide credits (which the utility receives for shutting down a pollution source). If SCE sells any credits, the money will be held until CPUC figures out what to do about Mohave on a permanent basis.

This is very good news for the Just Transition Coalition, which proposed to the CPUC in January that earnings from the sale of the sulfur dioxide credits be used to help the Hopi and Navajo Tribes build capacity to replace the substantial revenues that they lost when Mohave closed and with it, the Black Mesa Mine.

The coalition asked that those credits be allocated to the tribes from now until 2026, the latest date at which Mohave can be shut down permanently.

The coalition estimates the sulfur dioxide credits are worth $65 million a year. SCE’s share of that amount is 56 percent, proportional to its share of ownership of the power plant.

The CPUC order directs the utility to establish a “sub-account to accumulate revenues from the sale of any sulfur credits created by the December 31, 2005 Mohave closure.”

Our Navajo Aquifer is now safe from exploitation and overdrafting to feed the coal slurry that transported coal to Mohave, a great relief to all who depend on it.

While stopping something negative is good, it is not enough. We must now begin to build a positive, healthy, sustainable future for our grandchildren and the generations to come. Solar generation of electricity is one answer for the people of Black Mesa, and we have a proven technology with which to do it.

Masayesva, former chairman of the Hopi Tribe, is executive director of the Black Mesa Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting water resources in the Black Mesa region.




Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.