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The last trainload of coal rolled into the Navajo Generating Station near Page on Monday, marking the closure of the mine 78 miles away and starting a countdown for the plant's own darkening.
The electric companies that own the coal plant voted in 2017 to close it, citing lower prices from natural-gas plants.
The last load from the electric train means the current 265-person workforce at Peabody Energy's Kayenta Mine will be reduced to a "smaller crew" responsible for filling in the massive holes scraped by drag lines and returning the area to a landscape suitable for native plants and animals as well as livestock.
With about 42 days of fuel stockpiled on site, the power plant will remain open a bit longer.
Peabody officials said they now will attempt to move workers to other mines out of state when possible, and are trying to connect others to a local Workforce Development Center.
Almost half the miners are eligible for retirement with pension and medical benefits, according to Peabody.
“Our workforce has done an outstanding job over the many years at Kayenta Mine," said Peabody U.S. Operations President Kemal Williamson in a statement emailed to The Arizona Republic.
"From safety to sustainability, the team has delivered stellar performance. I greatly appreciate each employee’s dedication and efforts to mining coal safely on Black Mesa.”
Once the fuel runs out, Salt River Project officials will begin tearing down the massive coal plant. Already, officials have begun preparing the plant for decommissioning.
SRP has transferred plant workers to its other facilities across the state when it can find openings, replacing them with contractors at the plant to keep things running until the fuel runs out.
SRP reported in January that of the 433 employees at Navajo Generating Station in 2017 when the closure was announced, 152 have taken new SRP jobs, 36 retired, 15 declined new jobs and 15 were terminated (either decided to take a job outside SRP or fired for poor performance). That left 215 awaiting a job offer elsewhere at SRP or remaining through the closure.
A massive greenhouse gas emitterWhen running at full capacity, Navajo Generating Station is about the third-largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions in the U.S., depending on how much the other big coal plants run in a given year.
For that and other reasons, environmental groups have pushed for years to close the plant.
The Black Mesa and Lake Powell Railroad electrified train (BLKM) starts it’s 78-mile trip from the Kayenta Mine load-out silos, May 30, 2017, to the Navajo Generating Station. The train had 83 cars, each carrying 100 tons of coal. (Photo: Mark Henle/The Republic)
In addition, burning coal releases mercury, which eventually finds its way into the food chain and makes fish from certain lakes in Arizona and elsewhere unsafe to eat.
Coal's sulfur dioxide emissions cause acid rain. Scrubbers installed at Navajo from 1997 to 1999 reduced those emissions by more than 90%.
Nitrogen oxides contribute to haze and to breathing problems, much like the smog automobiles cause in cities. SRP installed new controls on each unit from 2009 to 2011 cut those emissions by more than 50%.
Particulate pollution, also linked to health problems, is reduced at Navajo by electrostatic precipitators. The ash collected by these controls is used for construction materials.
Big facilities important to tribesThe plant can burn through 240 train cars of coal a day, or 24,000 tons of fuel. It normally would receive three trains a day with 80 cars, but Monday's final load was a smaller 60 cars.
The first of the three generators at the plant opened in 1974. With a capacity of 2,250 megawatts, the plant puts out enough power to light about 563,000 homes at once when it's running at full power.
Navajo is owned by SRP, Arizona Public Service Co., Tucson Electric Power Co., NV Energy and the Bureau of Reclamation, which uses its share to power pumps on the Central Arizona Project canal, delivering water from the Colorado River to Phoenix and Tucson.
CAP contracted for power from natural gas and solar to partially replace what it is losing from the coal plant, despite protests from miners. CAP officials previously said they expect to save money with the coal plant's closure.
The power plant is on Navajo land and the Kayenta Mine is on Navajo and Hopi property. Both provide critical employment for members of the tribes, as well as revenue for the tribes through land leases and coal royalties.
Navajo officials had hoped to piece together a deal to save the plant, but that did not work out.
Neither did a lawsuit by the Hopi to force CAP to buy the plant's power.
This article first appeared on www.azcentral.com
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