"Hydrogen = Energy Independence"

The Shonto Clean Energy Project was one such early large-scale hydrogen project where stakeholders pulled out at the last minute. It was the collaborative effort of Element One Technologies - project lead, Dominion Energy - pipeline transportation of hydrogen from the project site to Needles, California, SoCal gas - distribution hydrogen throughout the state of California, First Element for hydrogen station fuel retail outlets, GE - supplier of numerous hydrogen compatible gas turbines and GE wind turbines, Arizona solar company to build out 50 acres of solar, ENEL to supply the geothermal technology for hydrogen production,  the state of California, Nevada and Utah legislative support, the Navajo tribal leadership for local support and policy,  NTEC and NTUA tribal utility companies for power connect and pipeline management, SRP and Peabody coal for needed back up power and coal supplies for coal gasification.

This project was two years in the makings, approvals from many entities with local chapter approval for project commencement, executive support from President Nez and Vice President Lizare, The Speaker full support and the Director of Mineral Resources Board. This project also had the graces of the DOE with a $2 Billion Loan Guarantee with approvals in Washington from the DOI, the DOC and the BIA.

After two years of countless meetings, corporate support and big funding - the Navajo leadership pulled out at the last minute and decided to allow the closure of the NGS power plant and the Peabody coal mine and to cancel the entire project with no explanation.

The ripples of this closure are still being felt

Case in Point: The 2.25 GW Navajo Generating Station (NGS) Power Plant -  outside Page, Arizona - the fourth largest power plant in the US -  cost $2.3 Billion in 2019 figures to construct. This power plant was supplying power to NGS Power plantCalifornia, Nevada and Arizona since 1974. For 2 years - the CEO of Element One Technologies traveled numerous times from Salt Lake City to Window Rock for meetings with the Navajo Tribal leadership and the executive leaderships of the Navajo Tribe throughout 2 tribal legislation to prevent the closure of this plant. On two occasions - tribal leadership traveled to Salt Lake City to meet with Utah state legislators and Element One Technologies.

IMG 1820Peabody coal - the company that managed the 100 square mile mining operation agreed to remain on board to produce coal for the next two years at a loss if the Navajo leadership would prevent the closure of the NGS plant. Most of the tribal communities were supportive of this plan and voted in accordance to these measures when they discovered the plant would be converted to hydrogen production facility via the Win-Win plan presented by Element One Technologies to hundreds of Navajo tribal members and the DOE, the DOI, and the BIA in Washington DC. The closure of the NGS plant and the Peabody coal mine put thousands of Navajos out of work and closed numerous businesses and shops that supported the mine and the power plant. Shutting down the plant  also included the loss of tens of millions of dollars of annual revenue needed for the Navajo income. 

IMG 1905President Nez and VP Lizare both offered full support for the Shonto Transitional Hydrogen Project. There was great support from Utah, Nevada and California including SoCal, Dominion Energy and the DOE in Washington that offered a $2 Billion loan guarantee in support of the project. After all this effort and approvals and gathering together a cooperative team to help the new build-out for hydrogen conversion, the executive leadership decided to close both the coal mine and the power plant to the determent of thousands of Navajo families and businesses. Unemployment skyrocketed. To this day - 1.5 years later - the Navajo Nation has still not recovered economically from that decision.

IMG 2166On the reservation, an estimated 32% of all homes lack electricity, 31% do not have indoor plumbing, and 38% lack running water. Unemployment in Navajo Nation officially sits at 48% — but this number doesn’t account for the 56% of adult Navajos who aren’t considered to be part of the labor force at all. Taking those people into account, the unemployment rate is pushing 70%. There was a solid plan in place to convert to clean burning power and produce hydrogen for the western regions. But - there was one factor that had a great influence on the decision of the Navajo leadership to close of both the mine and the power plant that created the unrecoverable circumstances of the Navajo Nation - disinformation.

After 48 years of operation- Peabody vacated the mine in December 2019. The NGS power plant was decommissioned and is now being torn down. Hundreds of families have been displaced around the country and the loss of revenue into the hundreds of millions when it could have been so easily avoided by keeping the assets in place and transforming both the mine and the plant into clean energy. With the Dominion pipeline that went all the way to Needles, California - running adjacent to the project's property - the NGS power plant would have supplied the entire state of California with enough hydrogen to supply the entire transportation sector of the state and the western region  with reliable, clean abundant  hydrogen - 400 million kilos annually.

IMG 1823This decision by the Navajo  leadership didn't just cause the loss of the $2 Billion of assets from both the mine and the power plant and the thousands of job losses - but Navajo Nation itself lost the equivalent of $200,000,000 per year of generating revenue in royalties of hydrogen sales. In the tribe that sits far below national  poverty level income - with only 160,000 Navajo - the proceeds from hydrogen sales would have been able to completely turn the economical recovery of the Navajo tribe around, dramatically increase the air quality, improved the lives of the Navajos and supplied the entire western region with clean burning hydrogen.  This entire de-railed and unfortunate process should be a warning shot for any rollout of a national plan.

Only through real science, data, and unbiased analysis, can we get from here to there - meaning a sustainable future that works for everyone. Disinformation isn't just a matter of opinion - it's life and death. It's the difference between prosperity and and complete and utter failure. We must concentrate on the facts, no matter how unpleasant or how unfamiliar they may be, in order to gain insight and wisdom to make the rational, and sometimes difficult decisions that our civilization requires.