Plans for a temporary extension and long-term hopes to keep the Navajo Generating Station open are facing challenges.
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Mine employees and officials talk about the possible closure of the Kayenta Mine. Mark Henle/azcentral.com
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Salt River Project spokesman Scott Harelson talks about the future of the Navajo Generating Station coal-burning plant near Page. Mark Henle/azcentral.com
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The Navajo Generating Station coal-fired power plant near Page and the coal mine that supplies it may close this year in the face of low natural-gas prices that undercut the economics of the plant.
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Effort to keep Navajo Generating Station open faces challenges
Employees, officials on possible closure of the Kayenta Mine
Future of Navajo Generating Station near Page
Navajo Generating Station threatened with closure
The electric train serving Arizona’s only coal mine derailed June 15 about 24 miles south of Page, damaging the tracks and cutting off the fuel supply to the Navajo Generating Station.
Salt River Project, which operates the plant, has enough coal on site to keep the station running, plant manager Joe Frazier said Friday. He expects the track to be repaired by the first week of July.
The train was making the 78-mile journey north from the Kayenta Mine to the power plant outside Page when 18 carloads of coal as well as the engine with two operators aboard derailed, he said.
No one was hurt.
“We are taking some time to repair the rail that was damaged,” Frazier said, adding that the cause is under investigation. “We believe it to be a mechanical failure at this time.”
Plant manager: Only 2nd derailment
While the train has had some accidents since the power plant began operating in 1974, this is only the second derailment other than minor disengagements around the rail yard, Frazier said.
The engines remained upright after the accident, but some of the coal hoppers spilled, he said.
“Everything stayed on our right of way,” he said, referring to the fenced area that keeps the public, livestock and wildlife off the tracks and overhead catenary system that supplies the train’s electrical power.
Frazier did not have an estimate yet on the cost of the damage.
The damaged cars have been moved off the track, where they will remain until they are scrapped, he said.
All three generators at the power plant remain in operation, according to SRP. The train can make three trips a day between the mine and plant, carrying more than 80 cars of coal that stretch a mile behind the engine. Each car can carry 100 tons of coal.
Already, the damaged track area has been regraded and new ties have been laid, Frazier said. Workers took Friday off from the repairs.
“We have rules where you can only work so many days straight, then you have a day off,” he said. “They came in and said they were going to bump up against that number, and do you want us to work through it. I said absolutely not. Even if we have a train that is not running we are not going to risk safety.”
The power plant on Navajo land has faced a variety of challenges and now is threatened with closure this year if a new lease is not approved by the Navajo Nation Council.
SRP and the other utility owners, Arizona Public Service Co., Tucson Electric Power Co. and NV Energy, voted to close by the end of 2019 or sooner if they can’t get a lease extension allowing them to dismantle the power plant after that. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also is a co-owner and officials there want to keep the plant open beyond 2019.
The utilities in favor of shutting down the plant say they can get cheaper power from natural-gas sources.
The tribal council introduced terms for a new lease earlier this week and is expected to vote next week.
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