Photos by Alysa Landry
Public power utility crews extended electric service to more than 137 households on the Navajo Nation this spring through Light Up Navajo III, a joint effort between the American Public Power Association and the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA). During April, May and June, NTUA welcomed workers from public power utilities and organizations from across the country.
“Public power utilities have shown over the years that they are incredible at stepping up to help each other,” said APPA President and CEO Joy Ditto. “We are well-practiced in sending aid in the wake of natural disasters, and we are leveraging these skills to help bring power to those who still don’t have it in our country in the year 2022, a situation that must be rectified.”
Of the 55,000 homes located in the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation – an area roughly the size of West Virginia and covering parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah – approximately 14,000 do not have electricity. These homes represent 75% of all U.S. households that do not have electricity.
The “Light Up Navajo” effort is a goodwill initiative of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority — in cooperation with the American Public Power Association — now in its third year to bring electricity to Navajo Nation families who are living without electricity.
Volunteer crews from community-owned, public power utilities from 9 states — including Arkansas, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Utah — donated materials and time to the Navajo Nation to build power lines to homes that previously were without power.
The public power utilities participating in LUN III included:
- American Municipal Power, Ohio
- Austin Energy, Texas
- Bountiful City Light & Power, Utah
- City of Newark, Delaware
- City of Santa Clara, Utah
- City of Seaford Electric, Delaware
- Conway Corp, Arkansas
- Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation
- ElectriCities of North Carolina
- Greenville Utilities Commission, North Carolina
- Northeast Public Power Association
- Norwich Public Utilities, Connecticut
- Sacramento Municipal Utility District, California
- Salt River Project, Arizona
- Town of Smyrna Electric, Delaware
- Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems
- Westerville Electric Division, Ohio
Two investor-owned utilities also participated in LUN III: Arizona Public Service Co. and New Mexico’s PNM Resources.
Earlier this year, Peabody Municipal Light Plant in Massachusetts donated surplus equipment to Light Up Navajo to support electrification of Navajo Nation homes.
“Honestly, this has been an all-around great experience. I truly didn't know what to expect when I got out here. We’re linemen. We will take any opportunity to go into line work somewhere other than where we're at. I expected to enjoy that, and it's been a blast. What I didn't expect and didn't know what was coming was just the overall sense of gratification that came from really doing something for somebody else who had never had power before, and never been able to turn on a light turn on a stove. It was a really cool experience that I'm going to remember forever, and I know the rest of the crew will as well.” — Travis Helmerichs, Austin Energy
On behalf of the Navajo people, we want to say thank you. … We appreciate all the companies who came. I know that many of you left your families, but to also empower families here on the Navajo nation with electricity. And with electricity, that also means we can put other types of infrastructure into the most rural parts of the Navajo Nation: broadband [and] water. And so, you are creating a foundation for infrastructure here on the Navajo Nation. On behalf of all the families that you have connected to the grid, thank you – A'he'hee – to each and every one of you, your families, your companies. — Jonathan Nez, President, Navajo Nation
I would tell [the volunteer utility workers] first and foremost, we are very prayerful people. I would always remember them in my prayers because it takes a lot to be here, it takes a lot to volunteer your time. Some of them probably have children, they probably have wives, they have a life, and they left all of that behind, to come here and help. I think in some way, they have a belief in doing something good. And I genuinely just appreciate them so much … that there are people that are thinking about us and the Navajo people like this. … Hopefully they can take this experience with them and share it and let [others] know there are people that do need help. I'm just so grateful for them, really, to have that kind of a heart to do that. — Tracie Tso, Navajo resident
Three years ago we had a crew that came out for the first Light Up Navajo and we finally were able to send another crew. I offered to come because I wanted to see the terrain, see the people, [and] help get power on to people who've never had it. — Jeremy Douglas, Conway Corp., Arkansas
The lights were really bright because we were used to low light even with our solar. Outside it was even darker. We didn't really go outside in the nighttime. So, we had to adjust to the bright lights. — Elizabeth Whitethorne-Benally, Navajo resident
You know what, it's really kind of the same no matter where you go … this is kind of like a brotherhood. Obviously, equipment and materials may be a little different. But at the end of the day, it's like fraternity. You kind of know what each other are going to do because you've done it for so long. — Gordon Valentine, Conway Corp., Arkansas