Kayenta Solar Farm to expand; partners consider more renewables projects

Nothing says success like expansion, and the landmark agreement between the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NTUA) and Salt River Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SRP) to expand the Kayenta Solar I facility has success written all over it.

Salt River Project purchased two years' worth of clean energy and environmental attributes from the 27.3- megawatt Kayenta I Solar Project, helping to fund its construction. When the Kayenta II expansion is complete, SRP will extend the original contract by one year.
Salt River Project purchased two years’ worth of clean energy and environmental attributes from the 27.3- megawatt Kayenta I Solar Project, helping to fund its construction. When the Kayenta II expansion is complete, SRP will extend the original contract by one year. (Photo by Navajo Tribal Utility Authority)

Only the beginning
The announcement of the expansion coincided with signing a long-term solar contract for the sale of firmed energy and environmental attributes from Kayenta II, as the project is called. SRP and NTUA also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in which they committed to pursuing future renewable energy projects.

“The Kayenta I Solar Project has become the Navajo Nation’s showcase renewable energy project to demonstrate that the Navajo Nation is ready for large-scale renewable energy development and operation,” said NTUA General Manager Walter Haase.

SRP General Manager and CEO Mark Bonsall said that the agreement is an essential platform for the utility and the tribe to develop future projects. “The renewable energy credits from this project will also help SRP expand its renewable portfolio to further reduce carbon emissions,” noted Bonsall.

More renewables to come
Under the MOU, SRP will provide technical support in developing interconnection facilities for large-scale renewable development within the Navajo Nation. The utility will also provide procurement and financing expertise related to the development and ownership of such projects. The agreement targets the development of at least 500 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy projects over the next five to 10 years within the Navajo Nation.

During the development of Kayenta I, SRP signed a two-year energy and environmental attribute contract. Once Kayenta II reaches commercial operation, the utility will add another year to the Kayenta I contract with options for further extensions resulting from the commitment to jointly pursue additional projects.

So far, development has focused on solar and wind resources, but the tribe is open to exploring other types of renewable generation. “We believe it is our responsibility to take the lead role in the development of renewable energy projects to promote economic development within the Navajo Nation,” said NTUA Spokeswoman Deenise Becenti.

Developing workforce, economy
NTUA anticipates that Kayenta II will further prove the tribe’s ability to develop renewable energy projects and build on the economic gains of the first solar facility.

Navajo workers received more than 4,700 hours of specialized training in solar-utility construction for the Kayenta I Solar Project. Construction of the next phase will likely employ even more Navajo workers.
Navajo workers received more than 4,700 hours of specialized training in solar-utility construction for the Kayenta I Solar Project. Construction of the next phase will likely employ even more Navajo workers. (Photo by Navajo Tribal Utility)

The 27.3-MW Kayenta Solar Project generates electricity to power an estimated 18,000 homes served by NTUA. At the height of construction, around 278 people worked on the project, 236 of whom were of Navajo descent.

The Navajo workforce was paid $5.2 million and received over 4,700 hours of specialized training in solar-utility construction for Kayenta I. The construction of Kayenta II will likely employ even more Navajo workers and is expected to produce similar salaries for the employees.

Tribe members have taken the skills they learned on the first Kayenta facility to other projects, added Becenti. “That trained workforce was able to find construction jobs at a solar farm in nearby Gallup, New Mexico,” she said.

The construction also generated $3,017,055 in taxes paid to the Navajo Nation. Overall, it is estimated that $15.6 million in economic activity occurred within the surrounding communities during construction.

Creating bright energy future
The Navajo Nation considers Kayenta II to be the next step toward the tribe producing energy for its own use. The facility is expected to begin commercial operation in the May 2019.

There are no current plans to add storage to the project, but the technology is on the tribe’s radar for future opportunities. This is another area where the Navajo Nation may be able to leverage its partner’s expertise. Last year, SRP signed two power purchase agreements with NextEra Energy Resources, one for a 20-MW solar array with energy storage and a separate agreement for a 10-MW grid-scale battery. The utility also plans to work with NextEra to test the economic viability of using storage to integrate intermittent renewable resources on its grid.

The Navajo Nation appreciates SRP’s willingness to continue to work alongside NTUA, Haase stated. He looks forward to Kayenta II generating not only clean electricity, but more jobs and promising economic activity in the region, as well. “This partnership is all about progress,” said Haase.

Source: SRP, 1/26/18