FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — One of the country's largest American Indian tribes has partnered with a national laboratory to study what technologies would be best for developing natural resources on the vast reservation.
The Navajo Nation has large deposits of coal and uranium, along with potential for wind and solar energy, but it hasn't historically been a major player in developing those resources. The tribe signed a three-year agreement with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on Wednesday to look into carbon capture and sequestration, clean coal technology and renewable energy, among other things.
Navajo President Ben Shelly said the expertise of leading scientists and engineers will lead to better investments for the tribe.
"With the lab's help, we will have a better picture of what technologies are best for our resources and nation," Shelly said in a prepared speech. "This assistance will carry us for many generations and position our nation to compete with the rest of the world."
Under the agreement, the tribe and the laboratory also could look into power plant design and siting, combustion and geothermal technologies and energy security. The agreement comes as the Navajo Nation is revising its energy policy and considering whether to adopt renewable energy standards.
Lawrence Livermore, along with Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories in New Mexico, is part of team that is laying the groundwork to provide long-term technical assistance to tribes on energy development and resource management. American Indian tribes own about 15 percent of the country's natural resources, according to Lawrence Livermore.
Navajo officials visited the Livermore, Calif.-based lab last July to discuss a formal partnership. It was signed in the tribal capital of Window Rock — the only such agreement the lab has reached with an American Indian tribe, said Lawrence Livermore spokeswoman Linda Lucchetti.
The Navajo Nation has long depended on revenue from coal mining, oil and gas, and lease payments to support its general fund. But tribal officials know those revenue sources could dry up and always are looking for ways to guarantee funding for future generations and to boost the tribal economy, where unemployment hovers around 50 percent.
The advantage for the Navajo Nation, which reaches into parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, is its land base. At 27,000 square miles, the reservation is larger than that of any other American Indian tribe and is about the size of West Virginia.
The tribe already has some wind and solar projects in the works through its utility authority, including the Boquillas Wind Farm to be built on land owned by the Navajo Nation near Seligman. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is the majority owner, a position the tribe will seek with any large-scale energy projects moving forward, tribal officials have said.
Studies on carbon capture and sequestration, clean coal technology, and power plant design, engineering and siting appear to be geared toward another generating station on the reservation. The tribe once touted a planned $3 billion, 1,500 megawatt coal-fired plant as one of the cleanest such plants in the nation even without capturing carbon emissions and storing them. Critics said there was no such thing as clean coal.
Shelly once denounced the so-called Desert Rock Energy Project but has said more recently that it's still on the drawing board.
The tribe's energy policy also covers uranium mining, which was banned on the reservation in 2005 over concerns about disease and death it brought upon Navajos. Shelly has said the tribe would monitor technology and techniques to extract the ore, as well as market conditions, to determine whether it might be viable in the future.