Why NGS is Important to Southern Arizona

Why NGS is Important to Southern Arizona

On April 13th I was called to testify at the Congressional House Energy and Natural Resources Oversight Committee hearing regarding, “The Benefits of the Navajo Generating Station to Local Economies.” The hearing provided an opportunity to give southern Arizona a voice at the table, quite literally, to speak on the importance of long-range electric generation capability and capacity. One might ask, why is a northern Arizona power plant, Navajo Generating Station (NGS), important to southern Arizona, what’s the connection? The answer is more complicated than one might think, but the short answer is that we have been blessed with a highly efficient public works project that actually works very well.

NGS was commissioned by Congress as a compromise with the environmentalist community, including the Sierra Club, to avoid building more dams on the Colorado River. The plant is a 2250 Megawatt, coal driven, baseload power generating station that is supplied by coal from the Kayenta Coal Mine. Between the power plant and the coal mine, over 800 people are employed. Since 2012 the Salt River Project (SRP), owner of a major stake in the plant, and the prime operator has worked to exit operational responsibility. According to the W.P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University, NGS contributes far more than employment to the people who work at the plant and mine. The economic impact of this major power generation asset is approximately $1Billion annually, which in round numbers, is almost 1/10th of the State Budget discretionary spending.

Heiroglyphics Recharge Site
December 15, 2009
Central Arizona Project Photo by Philip A. Fortnam

The Central Arizona Project (CAP), which is a canal project also commissioned by Congress, moves Colorado River water to Pinal and Pima Counties. It takes a lot of electricity to power the pumps that move the water through the system, and that is where the connection becomes so important. The NGS and the CAP are a matched set, one was built specifically to supply the other with the essential power to move water across the state for both agricultural and urban needs.

During testimoney, the point was made that since NGS was built and commissioned by an Act of Congress, it would take an Act of Congress to decommission it before the scheduled decommissioning date of 31 December 2044. Also in question is the civil contract nature of the relationship between CAP and NGS. The Board of Directors of CAP have said that they want to diversify their power supply more and use alternative sources of electricity. That desire is overshadowed by the reality that water pumps require baseload power, which is that power that does not cycle up and down depending on the wind blowing or the sun shining.

There is little doubt that Congressman Paul Gosar is NOT inclined to support a move by Congress to decommission NGS early. As it has often been said about water in Arizona, “whiskey is for drink’in, water is for fight’in.”


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