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Public power brings Navajos back to the Nation


From the October 17, 2013 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published October 17, 2013

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority has the unique mission of bringing its people together with every pole it installs throughout the rough terrain of the Navajo Nation, according to an article in Public Power magazine.

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, established in the 1950s, covers 27,000 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

"We are tied to the land here and that is the very essence of our culture. This has always been the belief of our people," said Deenise Becenti, public affairs director for the NTUA. "As a utility we now have an incredible mission—it’s one that is bringing families back together. Once they have utilities available, the younger generation is more apt to move back home. It keeps our culture, traditions, and beliefs strong and moving forward."

Before the tribe established its own utility, the Bureau of Indian Affairs operated small coal-fired power plants throughout reservation territory, said Walter Wolf Jr., counsel to NTUA for 54 years. Wolf helped the Navajo Nation negotiate a contract with Arizona Public Service to build a coal plant on tribal land. Through the negotiations, the Navajo Nation secured a power supply agreement, Wolf said, and later took over the Bureau’s operation. "That was the start of NTUA," Wolf said. "Now we have almost 40,000 customers and we cover pretty much the whole reservation."

It wasn’t until 1965 that the Navajo Nation became concerned enough about where the utility’s money was going to turn it into a business, Wolf said. "So we created an enterprise and decided that this would have to be a self-governed, self-financed operation," he said.

Lack of experience was the biggest problem for the utility in building its business, Wolf said. The Navajo Nation had little access to education. The utility had no access to business personnel with experience, Wolf said. But now, more than 95 percent of the utility’s employees are of Navajo descent, he sad. "And we’re doing fine." NTUA has been recognized by APPA's Reliable Public Power Provider program, he noted. "I think we’ve come a long way and I’ve been proud to be part of it."

Learn more about NTUA’s journey and mission in, "Coming Home to Navajo Nation," on publicpower.org.

Subscriptions to the electronic and print editions of Public Power and all other APPA periodicals are free to all employees and governing board members of APPA member utilities and associate members. An online subscription signup form is on publicpower.org.

 

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