- Associated Press - Monday, October 2, 2017

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) - A coal mining company looking to save the Arizona power plant it feeds from closure says it’s making progress in the search for new owners. But few details came with a deadline Sunday to identify potential buyers for the Navajo Generating Station near Page.

Peabody Energy spokeswoman Beth Sutton said Monday that private equity firms and power plant operators are interested. She wouldn’t say who, how many or describe the level of interest, citing confidentiality agreements.

Peabody hired investment firm Lazard Freres & Co. LLC, to aid in the search. The task now is to narrow the field and work toward definitive agreements with interested buyers by the end of March, Sutton said.

It’s a tight timeframe. Contracts must be lined up for decommissioning well in advance. Lease negotiations with the Navajo Nation where the power plant is located and environmental reviews also could take years.

Environmentalists say another buyer for the power plant will keep the Navajo Nation locked to coal at a time when utilities increasingly are switching to other sources of power.

“We can’t assume this plant will support our economy for long, and it’s time we diversity our economy by building new clean energy projects that provide clean power, create jobs and bring new revenue to our community,” said Nicole Horseherder, of To Nizhoni Ani.

The owners of the Navajo Generating Station, including the Salt River Project, voted earlier this year to shutter the 2,250-megawatt plant because energy produced by natural gas was cheaper. The lease signed with the Navajo Nation still needs approval from the federal government and a former plant owner.

SRP spokesman Scott Harelson said Monday the utility received a letter from Navajo leaders acknowledging others’ interest in the plant and a commitment to move forward, but the information was little more than what the utility already knew.

Both Harelson and a spokeswoman for the Navajo Nation, Meghan Cox, declined to release the letter.

“It comes down to timing now,” Harelson said. “If they have serious proposals, they need to get those together and present them as soon as possible. The longer they wait, the more difficult it is.”

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement that the tribe is committed to engaging in negotiations with potential owners.

Hundreds of Navajos work at the plant and the associated mine near Kayenta. The Navajo and neighboring Hopi tribes rely heavily on revenue from coal operations.

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