NAVAJO MOUNTAIN, Utah—Officials in remote areas of Utah and Arizona say the recent decision to shut down a coal-fired power plant in northern Arizona is expected to cause about 1,000 job losses in an area already struggling with high unemployment.
Owners of the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona, voted earlier this year to close the plant and the coal mine that supports it by 2019.
The plant employs 500 people, mostly Navajo, and is considered important to the local economy. A Peabody Energy coal mine that supplies the plant employs 430 people.
Jerry Williams, a plant worker and Lechee Chapter president of the Navajo Nation, said the economic hit will extend to relatives because residents on the reservation often take up jobs far away to help out family back home.
It’s cheaper for utility companies to buy power from natural gas-powered plants instead of coal and it no longer makes financial sense to keep the coal plant running, according to the Salt River Project, one of the plant’s owners.
The closing of the plant and the coal mine that supplies it could hit small communities in the area, including the Navajo and Hopi tribes, whose members depend on the facilities for jobs, government revenues and coal for heating homes.
Bill Diak, the mayor of Page, Arizona, said the closure of the facilities will be devastating for his town, though tourism to nearby Lake Powell will help soften some of the impact.
For communities on the nearby Navajo Nation, where unemployment is near 50 per cent, the impact could be worse and tourism tends to offer seasonal, minimal wage work for some communities.
Brian Kellar, an official with the Page-Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce, said that tourism can help a community’s economy, “But I think you’re still going to have to diversify outside of just tourism.”
For some communities, like the small Utah community of Navajo Mountain, it’s an unlikely solution. The remote town of 300 sits on the Arizona border about eight hours by car from Salt Lake City.
Longtime resident Kee Natoni, a former worker at the coal mine, said he’s worried about future generations as the plant and mine close.
Resident Ellouise Yazzie it’s unlikely that tourists will make their way to the community.
Instead, she and other traditionalists say they’re planning fall back on planting crops, livestock and crafts to survive.
“We always knew that they were going to shut down the jobs,” Yazzie said.