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Changing lives, creating opportunities: Electrifying homes in the Navajo Nation

It’s hard to believe that 15,000 families in the Navajo Nation still have no electricity. However, between March and May 2019, more than 200 families experienced something most people in the rest of the U.S. probably don’t remember — watching the lights in their home come on for the first time at the flip of a switch.

Step inside this life-changing experience through the stories from the crews that built the new connections and the residents who came onto the grid as part of the Light Up Navajo initiative, a unique mutual aid effort organized by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and the American Public Power Association.

"Power is everything. I’ve had it my whole life; for me to be without it now, I don’t know what I would do. It’s amazing that people are still going through this — they don’t know any different. It’s truly an honor to come here and do this for people and to see their faces when the light goes on." -Stephen Frost, Salt River Project, Arizona

Utility crews working on Navajo Nation

“People where we’re from don’t have power for an hour and it seems like they haven’t had it forever. Then you come out here, and people haven’t had it for 80 years, or their whole lives. People in our industry like to help people out and get the lights on. The first day, we got some people turned on, and they were very happy. It was a good feeling to get people turned on, ease their life a little bit with the convenience of electricity.” – Jack Lizotte, Littleton Electric Light & Water, Massachusetts

Fannie Shorthair and an electric meter

“When you live without electricity at all, it’s hard. I broke down a lot of times. I just had to make it work, but it was hard every day, every night. I prayed, I hoped everything would go fast. But today’s the day I’m happy about. I’m so glad that they [the volunteers] are helping out with the project. It makes it faster. I can’t believe how fast they hooked the lines and set up the poles. I’m very thankful for them to come out and help with NTUA.” – Shirley Atene, Navajo resident

Lineworkers installing a transformer in Navajo nation

“The last job we were on — those people needed it bad. The medicine that the child was on needed to be refrigerated. We got them that power, [and now] they have the refrigeration they need. That’s what I’m here for: I’m here to get as many people on as I can before I leave.” – Steven Willis, Grand River Dam Authority, Oklahoma

Crew setting poles in Navajo Nation

“For us, our safety is No. 1. We have to slow down … it is a very remote area. We’re out there and thinking, ‘We have so much more to do.’ As you can see, a lot needs to be done. A lot of our guys, to have that experience, it’s the passion they have for the work. It is always good to have that different cultural experience; how you don’t take life for granted.” – Melissa Parrish, NTUA

Pauline Yazzie and daughter with light

“Get people the power that need it. Whatever we’ve got to do. We’re working seven days a week, 12 hours a day. And I like it. I’m hoping that more and more people over the years will do it, and one day we won’t even have to mention that people are without power in the Navajo Nation.” – Scott Larsen, Littleton Electric Light & Water, Massachusetts

Navajo family looking out a window

“My hope is that this program can continue on, and we can get over 1,000 families a year [connected]. That would still be about 15 or 20 years, but at least I’ll be able to see it done in my lifetime.” – Wally Haase, NTUA general manager

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