Dana Powell, an Anthropology professor at the Appalachian State University, discussed the issue and use of alternative energy in the Navajo Nation. Dana Powell '96 is an alumnus of Guilford College. Before Dana’s presentation, I knew nothing about the Desert Rock Energy Project, not even where the Navajo Nation was located. I did not know what to expect from the discussion, but was ready to actively listen to what Dana had to say.
The Navajo Nation is located is a semi- autonomous Native American-governed territory occupying portions of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. The Navajo Nation is the largest reservation of Native Americans in the United States, covering 27,673 miles. Sithe Global Power LLC, located in Houston, Texas, and Dinè Power Authority, located on the Navajo Nation, together proposed the Desert Rock Energy Project. The Desert Rock Energy Project would comprise a 192 acre parcel of the Navajo Nation, and would be located about 30 miles southwest of Farmington, New Mexico. The Desert Rock Energy Project would include a power plant, which would be a mouth mined supercritical low sulfur pulverized coal fired electrical power plant. The power plant itself would include two 750 megawatt units that would be able to generate up to 1500 megawatts of power. This state of the art power plant is designed to improve the efficiency of the production of electrical power while at the same time reducing the amount of emissions into the atmosphere. The Desert Rock Energy Project proposed to pay the Navajo Nation $52 million a year in exchange for the Navajo Nation allowing the Desert Rock Energy Project to build a power plant on their reservation.
Dana’s presentation addressed the socio-cultural politics of energy technologies and environmentalism on the Navajo Nation. Dana discussed the ethnographic perspective on the Desert Rock Energy Project, a controversial coal-fired power plant proposed for Navajo land. The construction of the power plant has still not even been started, even though it was proposed in 2004. However, Desert Rock has emerged as a blueprint for ongoing debates concerning sustainability, environmental justice, contending cosmologies, and indigenous identity. The Desert Rock story reveals that debates about the infrastructure and environment of the Navajo Nation.
Dana explained the point of views from both sides of the environmental debate. First, she discussed the Navajo Nation’s perspective about not wanting to disturb their sacred land. Navajo groups have sustained long term campaigns protesting the development in areas that the Navajo believe to be part of their historic territory. Navajo groups have protested against the development on their holy mountains that play a huge role in Navajo cosmology. The Navajo are also worried about the amount of water that will be consumed by the power plants, due to the fact that water is a precious commodity in the desert. The issue of regional haze and emission of mercury into the atmosphere has also been brought up by the protest groups of the Navajo Nation. On the other side of the argument is the Desert Rock Energy Project. Sithe Global Power LLC and Dinè Power Authority feel as though the $52 million dollars being paid annually to the Navajo will alleviate a lot of the social ills in the Navajo Nation. Frank Maisano, the spokesman for Sithe Gobal Power LLC, reassured the Navajo activist groups that the Desert Rock Power Plant would be one of the cleanest plants in the nation. According to Frank Maisano, the Desert Rock Power Plant would reduce carbon emissions by 15 to 20 percent, mercury and sulfur emissions, and water consumption up to 80 percent through supercritical boiler technology. The Desert Rock Energy Project ensures the Navajo Nation that this action will bring in taxes, revenues, water payments, and build an investment strategy that will provide dividend income.
After listening to Dana’s entire presentation the one core value that kept popping in my head was stewardship. Guilford College describes stewardship as “committing to making decisions that will insure the long term survival of this institution”. I believe that both sides of the debate are creating a sense of stewardship. In the Navajo Nation’s case, they want to be sure the construction of the Desert Rock Power Plant will not lead to the decimation of their people through pollution and water consumption. The Navajo activist groups have the Navajo Nation’s people’s best interest at heart and do not feel that the pros outweigh the cons. The Navajos also would like to insure the long term survival of their culture and ancestors during the construction of the Desert Rock Power Plant, which could potentially destroy historic territory of the Navajo. On the other hand Sithe Global Power LLC is enabling a sense of stewardship by trying to construct a power plant that they feel will insure the long term survival of their company. Sithe Global Power LLC’s goal is to implement large scale socially power generation projects in places where success has proven challenging. Both sides feel their sense of stewardship is the best solution to the environmental/social issue.
The Energy Activism in the Navajo Nation presentation by Dana Powell, was a great experience. The discussion opened my eyes to the current environmental sustainability issues that are ongoing in the United States. Learning about the Navajo Nation really inspired me to one day take a tour of the Navajo Nation to obtain a real sense of what the Navajo have to endure on a daily basis.