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As Coal Power Plant Closes The Navajo Nation Transitions To Solar Power

The Navajo Generating Station is a coal-fired power plant outside of Page, Arizona. It's one of the biggest in our country and a huge source of jobs and economic resources for the Navajo community. Though Donald Trump campaigned on a promise of bringing back coal jobs rather than investing in clean energy, the situation at the station has declined as cheaper natural gas becomes more popular. 

In February, Navajo President Russell Begaye announced that the plant would be closing in 2019. Estimates had put the closing date for the station about 25 years later. With the closing of the plant, 700 jobs will immediately end for people in the area. According to Grist, 90% of those employees are Native Americans.

Now, the Associated Press reports that the Navajo nation has decided to invest in building a solar farm to slowly start replacing the coal station. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority just built the first large-scale solar energy facility on the reservation. The 27.3-megawatt Kayenta Solar Project operates near Kayenta, Arizona.  The location was chosen because of an existing small substation for solar power.

Solar power is also popularly on an individual scale for families living in isolation, according to CS Monitor. Some houses are far off the electricity grid and use residential solar PV systems, which have been provided by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority since 1999 on a low-rental or affordable loan payment plan. 92 more homes will be getting electricity through the new farm, and it's a system that can actually last.

The solar panels adjust to follow the trajectory of the sun and fall flat when winds pick up speeds over 50 mph. The project is facilitated by First Solar Inc. in Tempe, but the reins will be handed over to Navajo management. The project will supposedly generate enough electricity for 7,700 households, some of which have never received electricity before. The construction also provided jobs for Navajo people living on the reservation, and eventually the power line will bring money from Arizona, through California, New Mexico and Utah.

Solar farm project manager Glenn Steiger told Farmington Daily Times that the closing of the coal station is what prompted the push to get the solar energy farm up and running.

"With the Navajo Generating Station shutting down, that leaves a hole in power generation in this region. And we know that part of that hole ultimately will be filled with renewable energy, whether it's solar or wind. By us constructing and operating this project, it's giving us substantial experience in doing this, knowing full well there's going to be more of this in the near future," he said.

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