For more than six years, proponents of the Desert Rock Energy Project have been hard at work trying to convince the
world that building a 1,500-megawatt coal-fired power plant on the Navajo Nation is a good idea.
Time and again, these efforts have not produced the results that Sithe Global and its supporters had hoped for, and it
appears that the company may finally be seeing the writing on the wall.
In a High Country News article last month, Dirk Straussfeld, Sithe's executive vice president, said that the company is
going back to square one on its plans for the facility, reviewing whether and how to proceed. Given the regulatory,economic and public opinion setbacks that the proposed facility has faced, this is a long overdue recognition of
reality. It is nonetheless cause for cautious optimism that a third coal-fired power plant in the Four Corners region
might not be the sealed fate it was once thought to be.
Tacky as it may be to celebrate at a funeral, seeing a poorly conceived project go the way of the wind is something
over which all of us who live in this area can share a collective high-five. As it was proposed, Desert Rock, which
would have brought much-needed jobs to the Navajo Nation and was therefore supported by the tribal government, was
fraught with problems that would have had significant impacts on public health and the environment, all while
contributing to global climate change.
A broad-based coalition of tribal groups, state, regional and federal lawmakers and conservation organizations amassed
a body of evidence outlining all that was wrong with the power-plant proposal and the process through which it had
advanced. The Environmental Protection Agency remanded the facility's air permit in 2009, investors began questioning
the wisdom of throwing money behind more coal-derived energy, and the federal government denied proponents' application
for funding to experiment with unproven carbon capture and carbon sequestration technology at the facility.
Nevertheless, Sithe persisted in its efforts.
Until now. Sithe is apparently putting all options into the mix for consideration of next steps - including whether the
project it proposes will even be a coal-fired facility. Implicit in this decision is the realization that public
utilities - entities that Desert Rock owners would rely on to purchase the power generated at the plant - are moving
away from coal-generated power.
That recognition, and the return to the drawing board that it prompted, gives those of us who would like to see a
comprehensive shift in how and where our energy is derived an opportunity to help reshape Desert Rock as a project that
will meet the three-pronged test: to provide power, to serve as an economic engine for the Navajo Nation and to
not harm public health and the environment in the process.
Clean, renewable energy is the way forward in that effort, and Sithe can be a leader in that transformation. Here's
hoping the company is up to the challenge.
Megan Graham is director of
the San Juan Citizens Alliance.