‘Light Up Navajo’ initiative aims to connect 300 families to the electrical grid

Projects could take up to 11 weeks to complete

By: - April 12, 2022 4:55 am

A Salt River Project line crew works on power lines as part of Light Up Navajo III, an effort to connect 300 homes to the electrical grid that began in April 2022. Photo courtesy Salt River Project.

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) is working with utility crews from across the U.S. to extend power lines and bring electricity to families on the Navajo Nation as part of the Light Up Navajo III initiative.

Light Up Navajo III (LUN III) is a mutual aid project that extends service to Navajo homes without electricity, and local Navajo utility crews work alongside other utility companies.

Approximately 15,000 families on the Navajo Nation live without running electricity, according to NTUA.

“The Light Up Navajo project will help to change that for families throughout the region,” NTUA said on its website. The project launched in 2019, and due to its overwhelming success, it is now in its third year of operation.

The LUN III initiative began this month  and will last for 11 weeks to connect 300 homes to the electric grid for the first time.

NTUA and the American Public Power Association (APPA) are organizing LUN III, and are bringing out workers from utility companies and organizations across 10 states, including Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, California, Connecticut, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, Utah, and Washington, D.C.

There will be up to four crews working each week at different locations throughout the Navajo Nation, according to NTUA.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez commended the work that NTUA and the other utility companies are doing for families on the Navajo Nation.

“The Light Up Navajo initiative has proven to be a success and it contributes to the long-term vision and sustainability of our Nation – this is about Nation building so that our future generations will have strong and prosperous communities to build upon into the future,” Nez said in a written statement.

“Working together is how things get done and NTUA and the American Public Power Association have demonstrated that through the successful electrification of hundreds of homes for Navajo families through Light Up Navajo,” Nez added.

Salt River Project line workers are part of the initiative and have been out on the Navajo Nation working alongside NTUA in northeastern Arizona since the beginning of April.

Electrifying one household is an expensive endeavor because each household, on average, requires one transformer, 0.6 miles of wire, nine poles, 16 insulators and two arrestors to connect to the electric grid, according to SRP. The average cost is around $5,500.

“SRP has always had a strong relationship with the Navajo Nation. Anything we can do to help, we are certainly going to do it, and this was right up our alley,” Wayne Wisdom, SRP senior director of Distribution Grid Services, said in a press release. “The Navajo people are so resilient, kind, genuine, and humble. They really appreciate what they have.”

Since the crew has been on the Navajo Nation, they have helped 20 families get connected to power, according to SRP officials.

“One family came out to us after we finished and said, ‘We’ve been waiting 30 years to get power.’ It was emotional,” said SRP line worker Mark Henle in a press release. “They said, ‘It took 30 years and our parents passed away waiting for this process to be completed.’ We are just glad we can help.”

“To provide power to someone for the first time, to see their faces when we walk in their homes and they hit that light switch and they no longer have to go outside to put gas in a generator or change batteries in their flashlights, it is amazing to see,” SRP Line Working Foreman Marc Sienicki added.

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Shondiin Silversmith, AZ Mirror
Shondiin Silversmith, AZ Mirror

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.

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