Light Up Navajo initiative helps Navajo with ‘life-changing’ access to the electrical grid

SRP Linemen work on hooking up the electrical line at a home in Klagatoh, Arizona, as part of Light Up Navajo III on May 2, 2022. (Photo by Shondiin Silversmith / Arizona Mirror)

Melisha Beyal grew up on the Navajo Nation and always wanted to put a home on her family’s homesite in Klagetoh. It’s where her family is from and where she grew up — but it’s also in an area that doesn’t have access to electricity or running water. 

In fact, her mother moved away from the homesite when she was able to move into community housing down the road that was equipped with running water and electricity. 

Beyal, 38, has lived with her mother her entire life and now has two children, with a third on the way. She knew it was time to try and get her own home.

In 2021, Beyal set out to achieve that dream. Her family’s homesite is along Apache County Road 421, just off U.S. Highway 191, and she got her homesite lease for an area on her family’s land and leveled the dirt so a home could be built. 

By February of this year, she was able to place a trailer down, and it was time for her to work on getting her lights turned on. That’s when she heard about the Light Up Navajo initiative, which launched its third year last month.

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

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.

She was encouraged to apply for the program through the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA). Beyal said the Dilkon NTUA office informed her that LUN III wouldn’t start until the summer, which she thought was too long to wait. 

But during the first week of May, an NTUA and Salt River Project crew showed up at her homesite, ready to get her new home connected to the grid.

“It’s pretty exciting,” she said. “This is my first home.”

The NTUA and SRP crews showed up at Beyal’s home around noon on May 2. They installed a pole near her house, connected the wiring, added the transformer, and finally clicked in the electricity monitor for the house. It took the crew roughly three hours to get Beyal connected to electricity.

“It’s been kind of stressful, but seeing it all happen now, it’s a relief and I’m happy,” Beyal said. “That’s something I’ve wanted for my kids because I didn’t have it when I was growing up.”

Melisha Beyal from Klagatoh turns on the lights in her home for the first time on May 2, 2022. (Photo by Shondiin Silversmith / Arizona Mirror)

SRP is one of 14 utility companies from 10 states to participate in LUN III. SRP was able to connect 56 families to the grid during a four-week visit to the Navajo Nation, which started in April. SRP returned back to the Valley on May 8.

“People don’t realize that there’s still people without running water and electricity,” SRP lineman Mark Henle said, and after working with LUN, he sees that a lot of people take it for granted.

“These people fully appreciate everything since it’s the first time they’ve had it,” Henle said. “All the city folks, they never realized what it’s like to not have this luxury.”

“We do take it for granted,” SRP crew foreman Marc Seinicki added. “We’re spoiled.”

During SRP’s participation, line crews constructed about 12 miles of distribution lines, set 193 poles, strung 13 miles of overhead wire and worked 4,500 hours.

For Seinicki, it was his second time working for the Light Up Navajo program. He said the biggest reward is knowing that a family’s life will be changed with access to electricity in their home.

“It’s hard work but you know what we take pride in is when we’re done (and) seeing that light switch come on,” Seinicki said. 

Seinicki stood at the bottom of the stairs to Beyal’s trailer as she flipped the porch light on for the first time, confirming that she got power. Beyal thanked the crew and Seinicki gave her thumbs up.

Beyal said she looks forward to moving into her home, and her kids are also excited. She said they even started shopping for furniture for their rooms. Finally getting her own home set up on their homesite is a big deal for the whole family.

“This is really awesome for me to achieve this,” she said, adding that the next step is to start working on getting access to running water.

NTUA journeyman Javier Jim said that they’ve been working with crews from across the U.S., and some of the biggest challenges the crews have faced are terrain and weather. Areas have been remote and off-road, but spring also brings high winds to northeastern Arizona.  

Jim said it is a lot of work, but seeing the crews come out to help the Navajo Nation has been great because it shows that people do care.

Through LUN III, NTUA Public Affairs Officer Deenise Becenti said they’ve not only been able to help families that have been waiting for electricity for decades, but also younger families who have returned back to the Navajo Nation and are now living on their family lands.

Navajo Tribal Utility Authority Journeymen Javier Jim clicks in the electrical meter for a home after they finished connected to power as part of Light Up Navajo III on May 2, 2022. (Photo by Shondiin Silversmith / Arizona Mirror)

“It is a life-changing moment,” Becenti said. “It’s going to improve the standard of life for so many families out here.”

Becenti said since the initiative started in April, they’ve heard all kinds of stories from families that have been connected. 

One story that stood out to her was of a Navajo woman from Kayenta. She lived in a beautiful home in the community, and her mother always wanted to move back to the family homesite, but she passed away before it could happen. 

So the Navajo woman took it upon herself to make it happen. She left her home in Kayenta and moved to the homesite, even though it didn’t have electricity or running water. 

“When she was connected, she said, ‘I never thought this would ever happen, because I grew up here without electricity,’” Becenti said. 

Another was of another Navajo woman who relied on a solar panel and generator to fully operate her asthma machine. 

For more information about LUN III, visit www.ntua.com.

Becenti said there are a lot of things that people don’t think about when it comes to having reliable electricity. 

“It’s been a heartwarming experience for everyone,” she added.

LUN III started in April, and the initiative has a goal of connecting at least 300 homes, but because of weather conditions and the limited amount of crews available, Becenti said they’ll most likely get about 200 connected at the end of the program.

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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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