Los Angeles to explore solar partnership with the Navajo Nation

Share

The Los Angeles City Council has directed the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to report on “the feasibility of entering into partnerships with the Navajo Nation to implement cost-effective solar and clean energy projects for the City.” The City Council motion notes that recommended projects should “assess the benefits to ratepayers” and provide “environmental justice and economic equity to the Navajo Nation.”

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and other leaders worked with Los Angeles City Council member Mitch O’Farrell to develop the motion to explore a partnership, as reported by the Navajo Post. The City Council passed the motion unanimously.

LADWP, the municipal utility for Los Angeles, owned a 21.2% share (477 MW) in the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station, receiving power from the plant for several decades until selling its ownership stake in 2016; the coal plant was retired late last year.

Nicole Horseherder, a participant in President Nez’s presentation to the City Council, said in a pv magazine interview that she would like Los Angeles to commit to buying renewable power from the Navajo Nation. Such a power purchase commitment would greatly facilitate any Navajo Nation solar project, as the Navajo Nation has abundant land as well as grid access, the other two key elements needed for solar development. Horseherder is executive director of the clean energy group Tó Nizhóní Ání.

Speaking to the equity concern expressed in the City Council motion, Horseherder said that the Navajo Generating Station operators purchased coal from the Navajo Nation at “rock bottom prices,” leased land from the Navajo Nation “at a really low price,” and “even [obtained] water rights for free.” For renewable energy development going forward, she aims for a business structure that is “beneficial to the Navajo Nation.”

“The challenge” to developing a partnership with Los Angeles, she said, will be that the Los Angeles City Council “has expertise and a clear process in place about how to develop a partnership plan, and write up leases and agreements,” while the Navajo Nation “doesn’t have that expertise and doesn’t have a clear path.”

Horseherder’s group joined with two other groups to launch the Navajo Equitable Economy project, which calls for transition assistance for coal plant closures, and says that “until relatively recently, the Navajo Nation was grossly underpaid in the lease of land to Navajo Generating Station owners, by tens of millions of dollars a year for decades.” The project also calls for the Navajo Nation government “to develop a clear, efficient process for developers to follow to be able to build projects on Navajo land or Navajo-owned land that assures benefits to local communities.”

Navajo Power CEO Brett Isaac has similarly called for efficient Navajo government approval processes for renewable energy projects.

LADWP, tasked by the City Council with completing its feasibility study on a partnership with the Navajo Nation by March 20, has “not yet published” the report, said the utility’s press office, adding “at this time, we have no updates.”

Horseherder said that the transmission line connecting the former Navajo Generating Station and Los Angeles “is valuable, and if it’s owned by Los Angeles in the same proportion” that the city owned the generating station, “that would be close to 500 megawatts” of transmission capacity that could be used to transmit power from the Navajo Nation. Asked about the amount of transmission capacity, LADWP provided the following statement:

“LADWP controls transmission capacity between the now-closed Navajo Generating Station (NGS) and the City of Los Angeles.  With LADWP’s goals for a clean energy future, importing renewable resources from the Navajo interconnect is one of the many strategies being developed.

The transmission path ratings from the Navajo substation to the Los Angeles area have different available transmission capacities depending on various factors including existing commitments and reservations at each node or substations along the paths.  Another factor is the limiting import capabilities of the LA’s transmission system within the LA basin.

LADWP is undergoing several major projects within the LA basin and outside of the LA transmission system to increase import capabilities to realize maximum benefits from the existing and planned renewable energy resources. Depending on the final implementation of energy resources along the transmission paths from the Navajo substation to Los Angeles, available transmission capacities will vary.  The renewable energy resources injected may increase in parallel with the increases in transmission capacities.”

The City Council motion also directs LADWP to “meet with representatives of the Navajo Nation to explore the viability of implementing cost-effective solar and clean energy projects for the City on tribal lands, and any associated impacts.”