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Kayenta, Ariz. • A Navajo Nation entity has taken its first step toward generating electricity by starting a solar farm amid the pending closure of a coal-fired power plant in northeastern Arizona.

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority recently started operating the 27.3-megawatt Kayenta Solar Project near Kayenta, Arizona, The Daily Times of Farmington, New Mexico, reports.

It is the first large-scale solar energy facility on the reservation.

Solar farm project manager Glenn Steiger said the closing of the Navajo Generating Station is leaving a hole in power generation in the region. "And we know that part of that hole ultimately will be filled with renewable energy, whether it's solar or wind," Steiger said.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye recently signed a lease extension that will allow the Navajo Generating Station to continue operating through December 2019.

At least 700 jobs at the facility near Page and the coal mine that supplies it won't be immediately lost.

The plant's owners announced in February they would close it because cheaper power from natural gas is readily available.

Steiger said that's why it was time to get the solar farm up and running. "By us constructing and operating this project, it's giving us substantial experience in doing this, knowing full well there's going to be more of this in the near future," he said.

The solar panels are equipped to position flat when wind speeds increase more than 50 mph. He says two weather stations on site monitor wind speed, temperature and humidity.

For now, the project is operated by First Solar Inc. in Tempe, Arizona, and there are plans to bring the controls in house, Steiger said.

The line delivers energy across the reservation and into Arizona, California, New Mexico and Utah.