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Leadership in service: Light Up Navajo

“The first and most important choice a leader makes is the choice to serve, without which one’s capacity to lead is severely limited.”

–Robert Greenleaf

It is incredible that today, we have thousands of homes in the United States that have never been connected to electricity. And 75% of those homes are in the Navajo Nation.

The 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation is the largest Native American territory in the U.S., with an estimated population of 300,000. Among the 55,000 homes located there, about 15,000 do not have electricity.

The good news is that the Navajo Nation is served by a public power utility, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. For years, NTUA has been working on its own to remedy this situation and has connected about 3,000 homes to electricity in the past decade. However, electrifying the Nation is a mission they cannot accomplish unaided.

Because NTUA is part of the national public power family, they are not alone. Wally Haase, the general manager of NTUA and immediate past board chair of the American Public Power Association, has been raising awareness of the challenges of the Navajo people at various Association conferences and gatherings over the past few years. After every session, people came up and told him that it was unreal to them that thousands of American families do not have electric power. As public power entities, they felt they needed to do something to correct this wrong. That’s how the Light Up Navajo initiative was born.

In April and May 2019, NTUA and the Association are running Light Up Navajo as a six-week pilot project that will guide future electrification efforts on the Navajo Nation.

In 2018, the board of directors for the Association’s Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments (DEED) program approved a $125,000 grant to support NTUA and Association staff in assessing the feasibility of providing electric line extensions to Navajo homes.

In September 2018, we held a planning meeting with representatives from nearly two dozen utilities and joint action agencies in Window Rock, Arizona. We discussed project logistics, required resources, and travel plans. Time has flown by, and the vision and planning are now being translated to reality.

More than 130 volunteers from 25 public power organizations across the country are teaming with with NTUA crews and spending a week or two each to build electric lines to connect hundreds of families. We think of this as a unique mutual aid initiative. Just as public power utilities are always ready to roll up their sleeves and help their neighbors near and far in the wake of storms, they are now coming together to power their fellow Americans in need.

In just the first two weeks, the hardworking crews have connected many homes. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see families celebrate as the lights go on in their homes. For the first time, their children can do homework or enjoy a frozen treat at home, and in many cases family members can take hot showers. Flashlights and candles can be stored for use in emergencies instead of being everyday necessities.

We are humbled by this amazing effort that reflects the true spirit of public power. After this experience, it’s hard for us to take for granted the flow of electrons through our lines. We will remember the people on the Navajo Nation — and the hundreds of public power professionals who helped them — every time we flip a switch. Each person involved in this effort is a true leader in service.

However, the work will be far from finished at the end of the pilot. Thousands more are waiting to enter the 21st century. And the public power family will continue to help. Together, we can shine a light in the dark.

Thank You Public Power

Heroes from these public power utilities participated in the Light Up Navajo pilot in April and May 2019. We thank them for their service.

  • Conway Corporation, Arkansas
  • Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation: Town of Smyrna and City of Milford, Delaware
  • Farmington Electric Utility System, New Mexico
  • Grand River Dam Authority, Oklahoma
  • Greenville Electric Utility System, Texas
  • Heber Light & Power, Utah
  • Lawrenceburg Municipal Utilities, Indiana
  • Lehi City Power, Utah
  • Littleton Light Department, Massachusetts
  • Murray City Power, Utah
  • Painesville Electric Department, Ohio
  • Paxton Municipal Light Department, Massachusetts
  • Piqua Power System, Ohio
  • Rochelle Municipal Utilities, Illinois
  • Sacramento Municipal Utility District, California
  • Salt River Project, Arizona
  • City of Santa Clara, Utah
  • City of Scottsburg, Indiana
  • Sterling Municipal Light Department, Massachusetts
  • City of St. George, Utah
  • City of Wadsworth, Ohio
  • Washington City Power, Utah
  • West Boylston Municipal Light Plant, Massachusetts
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