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Public power crews gather to help bring power to the Navajo Nation

Public power utility crews from several states are gathering in Arizona this month as part of a unique mutual aid initiative by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) and the American Public Power Association to provide electricity to thousands of Navajo homes.

The Association has teamed up with NTUA to launch a pilot program called “Light Up the Navajo Nation.” Over 100 volunteers from 24 utilities have registered to be part of the Light Up Navajo pilot initiative.

Lineworkers from across the country will be building electric lines for projects that will aim to connect hundreds of families during the event. The hope is that the pilot effort will serve as a successful model for future electrification projects.

The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American territory in the United States, with an estimated population of 300,000. Among the 55,000 homes located on the 27,000 square mile reservation, about 15,000 do not have electricity. They make up 75% of all unelectrified households in the United States.

During his year-long tenure as chairman of the American Public Power Association, NTUA General Manager Walter “Wally” Haase traveled to various public power conferences to speak and was given the opportunity to talk about NTUA. He shared the fact that there are 60,000 people currently throughout the Navajo Nation that do not have electricity. 

“After each session, people would come up and tell me they didn’t know that thousands of American families do not have electric power,” he said. “This was unreal to them and as public power entities they felt they needed to do something to correct this wrong.”

Light Up Navajo is set up much like other mutual aid projects. “People would say, if we help cities and communities, why can’t we help the Navajo people,” Haase said. “These types of questions became a bigger and bigger part of the conversation” and that was how Light Up the Navajo Nation was created. 

“We are grateful these electric line teams have volunteered to travel here to help us with our challenge to extend electric services” to homes without electricity, Haase said. “We are equally appreciative to their communities and families that have supported this effort to help positively change the standard of life for our families who have been waiting years for electricity.”

He said the project “is a good will effort to bring reliable lighting, refrigeration, heating and make way for other services such as running water and cellular/internet communications. Navajo families will witness that other parts of America do care and have sent their teams to help us out. This is the America I know – people helping people.”

Mike Hyland, senior vice-president of engineering at the Association, said that the pilot project exemplifies the spirit of public power.

“Public power utilities are always ready to roll up their sleeves and assist other public power utilities in times of need, whether it is a one-time event such as a severe storm or a hurricane, or a project such as the Light Up the Navajo Nation initiative,” Hyland noted.

The Association is “honored to be a part of such an important initiative,” said Alex Hofmann, director of energy and environmental services at the Association. “We look forward to working with our member utilities to bring electricity to the Navajo Nation.”

Hofmann, who has served as a project facilitator for NTUA and the Association, helped Hyland, Haase and Srinivasa Venigalla, deputy general manager at NTUA, engage with Association members, establish a plan of action and execute the pilot volunteer electrification project.

Details on public power utilities traveling to the Navajo Nation

The utilities traveling to the Navajo Nation to work on the project are as follows:

Week 1 (April 6 -13): Rochelle Municipal Utilities (IL); Grand River Dam Authority (OK); Heber Light & Power (UT); Littleton Light Department (MA)

Week 2 (April 13-20): Rochelle Municipal Utilities (IL); Farmington Electric Utility System (NM); Piqua Power System (OH); DEMEC: Town of Smyrna + City of Milford (DE); West Boylston Municipal Light Plant (MA); Littleton Light Department (MA).

Week 3 (April 20-27): City of Wadsworth (OH); Farmington Electric Utility System (NM); West Boylston Municipal Light Plant (MA); Painesville Electric Department (OH); Sterling Municipal Light Department (MA); Littleton Light Department (MA); City of Scottsburg (IN); Lawrenceburg Municipal Utilities (IN).

Week 4 (April 27-May 4): Salt River Project (AZ); Sacramento Municipal Utility District (CA); Greenville Electric Utility System (TX); West Boylston Municipal Light Plant (MA); Sterling Municipal Light Department (MA); Paxton Municipal Light Department (MA).

Week 5 (May 4-11): Salt River Project (AZ); Sacramento Municipal Utility District (CA); Conway Corporation (AR); Piqua Power System (OH); Sterling Municipal Light Department (MA).

Week 6 (May 11-18): SRP; Murray City Power (UT); City of St George (UT); City of Santa Clara (UT); Washington City Power (UT); Lehi City Power (UT); Sterling Municipal Light Department (MA).

Planning meeting took place in 2018

A Light Up the Navajo Nation Planning Meeting took place on the Navajo Nation from September 10-11, 2018. Representatives from nearly two dozen utilities and joint-action agencies engaged in a two-day conversation around project logistics, required resources, and travel plans for the upcoming spring projects.

NTUA received $125,000 DEED grant earlier this year

In 2018, the board of directors for the Association’s Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments program approved a $125,000 grant application submitted by NTUA, which was related to the Light Up the Navajo Nation effort.

In its application, NTUA said it would explore several options to survey and assess, within the Navajo Nation, the feasibility to electrify its Navajo Nation members.

NTUA said it would conduct feasibility studies to address the difficulties of providing electric line extension construction projects on the Navajo Nation.

“This is an amazing mutual aid project to bring electricity to areas of our country” that have never had it before, said Liz Jambor, Manager, Data Analytics and Business Intelligence, at Texas-based public power utility Austin Energy and DEED Board Chair.

Linemen from the public power sector are volunteering “because they saw a need and stepped in and up to serve an underserved public,” she said.

Jambor recounted a story shared by a lineman of a woman who, as a young girl, saw a light in the distance and thought it was a fallen star. She walked over two miles to see the star, only to find a street lamp, something she had never seen. “As a child, she would walk several times to just sit under the light and marvel.  Today, as an older woman, she finally has her own light in her home,” Jambor said.

“Children are now doing homework by electricity rather than flashlight and candlelight. They are able to enhance their nutrition because they can store food longer.” 

The Association is seeking donations to help provide or cover the cost of the materials to connect Navajo Nation families to electricity for the first time. 

To learn more about ways to contribute, click here.

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