(Bloomberg) – In the end, a booming coal economy has proved too much to handle even a giant among generators.
At 12:09 a.m. local time on Monday – after burning electricity for nearly five decades – the largest coal-burning power plant in the western United States was permanently closed, becoming the latest evidence of a fossil fuel decline. With the flash in President Donald Trump's campaign to save America's coal industry, the Navajo Nation in the Arizona desert will now spend the next three years dismantling and decommissioning.
The end was a long time for the 2.25-gigawatt Navajo plant. Its owners, led by the Salt River Project, had originally planned to close it in 2017, but have reached an agreement with Navajo Nation leaders to continue for another two years. The facility, which once produced enough power to illuminate 1.7 million homes, is located on Navajo Nation in the Four Corners of Arizona and has been a major source of jobs in the region.
Tribal leaders have spent years appealing to the Trump administration for helping save the plant, characterizing it as the president's chance of fulfilling his election promise to revive the American coal state. The fact that the Interior Ministry holds a 24% stake in the complex gave him an even greater reason to set an example. The then interior minister, Ryan Zinke, promised to explore all options for rescuing the site.
For all its political connections, the Navajo Complex has proved incompatible with market forces. The shale boom has released record-breaking volumes of cheap natural gas, eroding the economy of coal-fired generators in the US Cheaper and cleaner wind and solar power plants have also begun to squeeze power plant profits.
Coal, which once supplied more electricity to the United States than any other resource, now represents less than a quarter of the nation. Since 2010, power generators have announced the retirement of more than 500 coal-fired power plants with more than 100 gigawatts, according to government figures. A typical nuclear reactor has a capacity of about 1 gigawatts.
Salt River Project Chief Executive Mike Hummel described the final decision to close Navajo as difficult but necessary.
This will prove to be one of Trump's many unsuccessful attempts to help save coal plants.
Last year, his administration's efforts to subsidize some of the coal generators supplied by miner and longtime Trump supporter Robert E. Murray fell apart.
In February, the federal administration of the Tennessee Valley decided to withdraw the aging coal plant in Kentucky, although Trump called for the utility's Twitter network to keep it open.  Read more: Battle to Rescue Arizona Dying Coal Departs for Washington
Navajo Plant Owners – Including Arizona Public Service Co., NV Energy Inc. and Tucson Electric Power Co. – agreed to lease payments totaling approximately $ 110 million for the Navao Nation so that the site could be decommissioned, monitored and operated as part of the region's transmission system.
Peabody Energy Corp., the largest coal producer in the United States, has already closed the Kayenta Mine – in the Navajo and Hopi tribal lands that supplied the plant.
Salt River said in a statement that it offered jobs to all 433 employees at the Navajo Plant. Almost 300 have accepted.
The Navao plant "will always be remembered as a workhorse of coal," Humel said in a statement.
(Michael R. Bloomberg, founder and majority shareholder of Bloomberg, the complex "and its employees are one reason this region, Arizona and the Phoenix metropolis can thrive and thrive," he says. LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, raised $ 500 million to launch Beyond Carbon, a campaign aimed at closing other US coal plants by 2030 and delaying the construction of new gas plants.)
(Adds a plant closure for details in paragraph six.)
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