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Navajo solar project sending power to the grid in Kayenta, Ariz.

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority in Fort Defiance, Arizona, and its wholly-owned subsidiary NGI-Kayenta, Inc. announced on June 16 that the Kayenta Solar Project is sending power to the transmission grid in Kayenta, Arizona.

The $60 million project "is the first-of-its-kind utility-scale solar project within the Navajo Nation and will enhance clean energy initiatives of the Navajo Nation and NTUA," the public power utility said in a June 16 news release.

"The completion of this project demonstrates that the Navajo Nation is ready for large-scale renewable energy production," said NTUA General Manager Walter Haase. "This is a huge step into the area of energy production and sales, as well as a gigantic first step toward enhancing the green economy for the Navajo Nation."

The Navajo Nation "has always been on the purchasing end of the energy production by having to secure energy from the outside," Haase said. "Now we can move to the other side of the table and sell electricity and related attributes to other parties. This project gives us the opportunity to bring outside dollars in and contribute to the financial strength of the Navajo economy."

The Kayenta Solar facility consists of 119,301 photovoltaic panels on single-axis trackers which follow the sun's daily path. The plant's output of 27.3 megawatts is enough energy for approximately 13,000 homes. The plant is expected last for more than 25 years, during which it will generate as much as 1,900 GWh of energy, NTUA said.

Groundbreaking was in April 2016

In April 2016, NGI-Kayenta, Inc., NTUA, Isolux Corsan - the contractor - and tribal leaders, including Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Vice President Jonathan Nez, Speaker LoRenzo Bates, Resources and Development Chairman Alton Joe Shepherd, and Kayenta Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown officially broke ground on the project in an open field just north of Kayenta.


"The completion of this project demonstrates that the Navajo Nation is ready for large-scale renewable energy production," said NTUA General Manager Walter Haase. Photo courtesy of NTUA

Eight months later, construction got underway and was completed in six months, NTUA said.

NTUA said that Isolux Corsan was selected as the contractor because of its experience in building photovoltaic solar plants worldwide, including in Spain, Italy, Peru, Japan and California.

The Kayenta Solar Project "places the Navajo Nation as the first among all Native Nations to develop a utility scale solar farm that will produces 27.3 MW of electricity," NTUA said in its news release.

The project brought much-needed construction jobs to the region, the tribally owned utility said. Close to 250 individuals, including 195 Navajo, worked during the height of the solar facility's six-month construction.

"Providing jobs was a big initiative of this project. We wanted local residents to have the opportunity to work and learn solar plant construction," Haase said. "Even though the actual construction was short-term, the employees received valuable hands-on training. It helps build their resumes in solar plant construction."

One of the early challenges in developing the project was finding available land, NTUA said. "Fortunately, the Kayenta community supported the project development initiative and voted in favor of this first-of-its-kind renewable energy project."

"I want to thank the citizens of the Kayenta Chapter for approving this new direction for the Navajo Nation as a supplier of renewable energy," said Kayenta Council Delegate Brown. "Our community is proud of being the first Navajo community to have a large-scale solar energy farm on the Navajo Nation."

The Kayenta Solar Project currently provides electricity to Navajo communities served by NTUA, and the tribal utility is selling the project's environmental attributes to a sister public power utility, the Salt River Project.