Utah Cities Help NTUA ‘Light Up Navajo’

“Imagine life without electricity. Without television, without computers, tablets or cell phones. Picture life where refrigerators don’t exist because there is no electric power. For approximately 15,000 families on the Navajo Nation this is reality,” states LIGHT UP NAVAJO.

The initiative is a partnership between the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) and the American Public Power Association, which has provided grant funding for a study, education and meetings related to LIGHT UP NAVAJO. The goal is to bring electricity to homes and families without power.

The organizations have successfully encouraged several outside utilities and Utah municipal governments to send their crews to the Navajo Nation — joining NTUA electric crews — to volunteer their time to build powerlines. The Salt Lake City suburb of Murray is the latest to join the LIGHT UP NAVAJO movement, pitching in four workers for a week in May — a cost to the city of roughly $26,000. Other Utah cities involved include Heber, Lehi, St. George, Santa Clara and Washington.

“We know these partnerships will improve the standard of life for Navajo families who will be connected to the electric grid for the very first time. The hope is that LIGHT UP NAVAJO will serve as a successful model for continued efforts to turn on the lights for all Navajo homes that hope to connect to the grid,” NTUA states.

The initial test project is anticipated to connect about 200 families to electricity. Those Navajo homes that have been on the waiting list for electricity for years are first in line for service. To offer perspective: an estimated 60,000 people on the vast, roughly 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation live without electricity.

NTUA, launched in 1959, is faced with high costs of connecting rural households to the grid — amidst a lack of government loans for support. To shed light on the situation: Electrifying just one household is an expensive endeavor. Each household, on average, requires 1 transformer, 0.6 miles of wire, 9 poles, 16 insulators, and 2 arrestors to connect to the electric grid; which is an average material cost of around $5,500.

“Our initial hope has been answered in that utilities are answering the call to send crews here to the Navajo Nation,” Deenise Becenti, a spokeswoman with the Navajo Utility Tribal Authority, told The Salt Lake Tribune.

As Becenti observed: one of the most challenging aspects of not having electricity is the inability to store food. The first thing residents remark upon joining the grid is, “Oh, now I can have fresh food,” Becenti said.