Joseph Kennedy Promotes Wind Energy on Navajo Nation

  • By Felicia Fonseca
Felicia Fonseca

Las Cruces
by Felicia Fonseca

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The airplane that brought Joseph Kennedy to the Navajo Nation was anything but steady. The wind was blowing hard, and while that might make some people uneasy, Kennedy didn’t mind.

It was a sign his investment might pay off.

The eldest son of the late Robert Kennedy spoke to Tribal Council lawmakers Wednesday to gather support for a wind energy project he’s developing on the reservation.

Citizens Energy, which Kennedy heads, has entered into a joint venture with the Dine Power Authority to development what would be the largest renewable energy project on the Navajo Nation.

“This will be an exciting project that can also put very significant amounts of money back into this reservation,” he said in an interview. “I’m very hopeful that we can create a sort of all-winners opportunity.”

Delegates cheered when Kennedy entered the council chambers, and the session paused briefly so that delegates could shake hands with him. Kennedy greeted the audience by saying “Ya’at’eeh,” or hello in Navajo.

Sounding much like a salesman, Kennedy asked the council for its blessing of the project and warned that if they “want to screw around, then I’m done. I’m moving on.”

Kennedy recalled visiting the reservation as a young boy with his father, who was investigating issues with housing and education on tribal lands. He said he also deal with “the terrible way Native Americans are treated in this country” while serving in Congress.

He rattled off a list of statistics, saying that 12 percent of Americans live in poverty compared with 43 percent of Navajos and the tribe’s unemployment rate regularly hovers around 50 percent.

Kennedy said revenues generated from the wind energy project could help those people.

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. told delegates earlier this week that the project could create up to 1550 jobs during construction and up to 20 permanent jobs when it began operating.

The project would also bring in $3 million in annual tax and royalties revenues and an opportunity for the Navajo Nation to acquire a majority ownership, Shirley said.

Steve Begay, general manager of the DPA, said the power authority began working with Citizens Energy about two years ago. He said Kennedy was brought in to press upon the council the need to develop wind energy and the benefits it would create.

“He brings a lot of clout to Navajo. … He understands sort of the plight of the people and the conditions out here,” he said. “I think he’s sincere in trying to help improve the quality of life on Navajo.”

Citizens Energy is only one of many that are “knocking on the door” to become part of renewable energy development on the reservation, said George Arthur, chairman of the councils’ Resources Committee.

However, the majority are not in the business of making partnerships with the tribe, he said. Arthur said Kennedy is “a lot more genuine than I would give credit to others.”

“It does help to be a former congressional member that can open doors to you,” he said. “More importantly we have to decide who has the best interest of the nation in mind. It’s not all about the dollar factor.”