The Light Up Navajo V initiative, a volunteer mutual aid program that seeks to extend electric service to families of the Navajo Nation in Arizona who currently have no access to electricity, begins in April. Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative was one of 14 utility companies from throughout the nation that sent crews to participate in Light Up Navajo IV in 2023, during which the 176 volunteer electric line workers worked alongside Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) crews to extend electric power to 137 homes.

Light Up Navajo was created from a unique partnership between NTUA and the American Public Power Association (APPA), which has a mutual aid program that sends electric crews to areas hit by natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes. Extending that concept beyond storm damage, NTUA and APPA formed Light Up Navajo, which gained the support of non-APPA utilities, such as the Public Service Company of New Mexico and Arizona Public Service.

A pilot program was launched in 2019, which brought together volunteer crews from public power utilities across the country to connect Navajo homes to the grid. In six weeks, the volunteer crews connected more than 230 homes, reducing the total number of U.S. homes without electricity by 1 percent.
“Outside utilities heard about our challenges and were inspired to be a part of this meaningful, life-changing project because they understand that the dreams of wanting electricity do remain prevalent,” said NTUA General Manager Walter Haase. “Our work is far from over and with the help of the visiting line workers, we will provide families the basic modern conveniences made possible by electricity, such as lighting, heating, air conditioning, and refrigerated food.”

“With electricity the families can also prepare for water and broadband services,” Haase added. “Electric connection does ease the burden for so many families, and that’s our ultimate goal–to help make life easier.”

Daily life for the approximate 13,500 families on the Navajo Nation that still lack access to electricity is definitely not easy. With no electricity to power running water, thousands of families travel up to an hour or even more several times a week to collect tanks of water. Outhouses serve as bathrooms. Perishable food is stored in portable coolers filled with ice. Burning chopped wood or coal is the only means of providing heat in an area that experiences heavy winters from November through April. Challenges to electrification of this area includes the high cost of connecting isolated rural households to the grid, sensitivity of families to utility costs; and limited availability of government loans for electrification.

The typical cost for NTUA to connect a home is $40,000. The Light Up Navajo approach significantly reduces that cost to an estimated $8,000 per home. To date, funding for the project has come from $272,000 in monetary donations, about $440,000 in volunteer time and labor, and a $125,000 grant from APPA’s Demonstration of Energy and Efficiency Developments program.

NTUA is currently planning for 2024 Light Up Navajo V. The initiative will begin in April 2024 and end in July 2024. There are currently three Wisconsin-based electric cooperatives planning to send linemen in 2024.


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