City of Page

The trees and homes of Page stand out among the undulating sandstone around Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. In the background are the smokestacks of the Navajo Generating Station, which could close as early as 2019.

As the Navajo Generating Station faces an important closure deadline today, a new report by Northern Arizona University researchers has better quantified what a blow the coal-fired power plant’s closure could be for the nearby city of Page.

The study estimated that the power plant contributes $51 million to the city’s economy annually. That includes $34 million in direct expenditures by the plant on things like payroll, operations and maintenance and another $17 million in economic ripple effects due to business growth and increased demand for goods and services generated by workers spending their paychecks in Page.

In addition to the 266 Page residents employed at Navajo Generating Station, the study calculated that 147 jobs in the city are the product of economic activity spawned by the plant. That’s equal to about 5 percent of the city’s total employment, the report said.

“It’s kind of sobering in my opinion,” John Stigmon, with the Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona, said of the report’s findings. Stigmon has been working on creating a post-NGS economic development plan for Page.

Wade Rousse, director of NAU’s Alliance Bank Economic Policy Institute, which performed the study, agreed that it shows the plant’s impact on the 7,500-person city of Page is “significant.” He couldn’t be more specific though because the study did not compare the $51 million to Page’s total economic activity or GDP.

What the study says is when the power plant closes, “between $0 and $51 million will disappear in total economic contribution,” Rousse said.

The question is what can come in to fill it.

Before the study, the city of Page didn’t have a good idea of the power plant’s exact contribution, City Manager Crystal Dyches said. Now, showing local businesses that Page is going to lose $34 million in direct expenditures helps drive home the message that the community needs to be proactive in terms of planning for the future, Dyches said.

She emphasized that the report does not take the next step of estimating exactly how Page’s economy will be impacted by the plant’s closure.

Doing so would include “too much speculation,” Dyches said.

Not all employees will leave Page, for example, she said. Some will choose to retire and continue living and spending money in the area while others may take jobs at other plants operated by Navajo Generating Station owner Salt River Project but will keep homes in Page.

As the city looks toward a future without the power plant, Dyches said officials hope to conduct a housing study that SRP has preliminarily agreed to fund. The company also paid for the economic impact study.

A downtown redevelopment plan and streetscape project are on Page’s to-do list as well, Dyches said. Downtown revitalization was part of Stigmon’s recommendations for Page, which generally focused on embracing tourism to fill the economic void that will be left by the coal plant.

When it comes to the report’s conclusions, Rousse said he is very confident in their accuracy because instead of relying on rough federal data they are based on up-to-date payroll and expenditure data provided by SRP. If anything, the total estimate of $51 million is conservative, he said.

Also important to note is that the power plant is located outside of Page, so its job numbers aren’t counted as a part of the total city employment, Rousse said. If they were, they would show the Navajo Generating Station to be the source of a much larger proportion of the city's jobs, he said. The power plant jobs are also much higher paying, with an average annual salary of $82,573, compared to the city’s median household income of $57,000.

Next, the NAU institute wants to do a study of the Navajo Generating Station's contribution to the entire region, including the Kayenta Mine, which supplies coal to the Navajo Generating Station, and the area south of Page to Interstate 40, Rousse said.

The institute does not yet have the data and funding necessary to begin that study, he said.

Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or ecowan@azdailysun.com

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Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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