Navajo Energy Crossroads
Solar panels on a remote rangers hut in the Navajo Nation, Southern USA.
In May 2016 I spent some time in the Navajo Reservation, researching the impact of the collapse of the US coal industry and the emergence of fledgling renewable energy.
This is a period of crisis for the Navajo, as they've relied on coal for jobs and income since the 1960s. They already face unemployment and poverty levels of nearly 50%, with around 40% of households still without electricity and 30% with no running water. The absence of the economic benefits brought by coal could spell disaster.
However many within the Navajo community have long fought coal's influence, concerned about local environmental, health and cultural impacts as well as the contribution to climate change.
Renewable energy has become the great hope, for clean power, new jobs and nation-building revenues, with the utilisation of micro and small-scale solar signs of change.
Now construction is about to begin on the first utility scale Navajo solar farm, a variety of other wind and solar projects are on the horizon, and the reservation is widely recognised for its massive renewable energy potential. But the Navajo have been here before, and on every previous occasion these large scale projects were eventually blocked.
I am writing an article to explore the forces that keep holding back Navajo renewable energy, from vested coal interests to lack of access to capital, and whether these can be overcome before the Navajo coal industry collapses completely.
I'll be publishing this article here shortly so stayed tuned.