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NGS/Lechee; What Does the Future Hold?

NGS/Lechee; What Does the Future Hold?
January 26
10:55 2017
Carol Covington with the Economic Collaborator of Northern Arizona

Carol Covington with the Economic Collaborator of Northern Arizona

There were fifty to sixty people in attendance Wednesday night for an economics meeting at the Lechee Chapter House. It was put together by the Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona (ECoNA), and it was aimed at getting input from residents about the rumored closing of the Navajo Generating Station.

Moderated by ECoNA’s John Stigmon, he asked the large crowd for ideas about Lechee’s well being, with or without NGS. The responses were honest and varied. Some residents spoke of Lechee’s need for things like a gas station, grocery store and even a hair salon.

But if the plant closes, there was fear revealed of whether the leaders in Window Rock would cooperate with their town in efforts to make serious improvements; stores, infrastructure and more. Some spoke of how frustrating it can be to get approval from Navajo leadership. Some felt the problem may be how far away Window Rock is from their home.

One Page resident brought with him a seemingly sound idea to keep the electric plant open.

Asking for a few minutes to speak, Erwin Marks, a member of the Navajo Nation, suggested that Navajo leaders, or anyone for that matter, approach the new Trump administration about subsidies for coal. NGS is a coal-burning enterprise and the much lower cost of natural gas seems to be the reason why the plant might close, perhaps sooner rather than later.

Marks said NGS spent about $240-Million on fuel in 2016.

Erwin Marks

Erwin Marks

“Right now the trouble we’re having is that natural gas is really cheap,” Marks said. “It’s making it hard to be profitable at the coal plant.”

He said his suggestion is to subsidize coal temporarily. He pointed out that many coal plants are being shutdown across the country.

“The demand for power is going to stay the same or continue to increase,” he added. “But when they (those that use natural gas) no longer have that competition (coal), the demand will still be there, and they’re going to raise their prices.”

Marks said that at that point coal would be competitive again, but many of the plants, and maybe even NGS, won’t be around to take advantage.

“So why not approach the Navajo Nation, who can then turn around and approach the new administration about the possibility of subsidizing coal; at least temporarily until natural gas prices go up?”

He added that President Trump has stated that he wants to help the coal industry.

Later on, Mr. Marks told Lake Powell Communications that NGS has asked Peabody Energy to lower their coal prices in order to help save NGS. But they have apparently not responded yet.

Moderator Stigmon was obviously pleasantly surprised with Erwin Marks’ suggestion. He asked Marks if he could borrow the idea and run with it to others.

The idea behind the Lechee meeting (and others around the Navajo Nation) was to be ready to diversify, even if (and hopefully) NGS stays operational.

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