Light Up Navajo brings electricity to areas without electricity

Light Up Navajo brings electricity to areas without electricity

Crews work to save electricity in the Navajo Nation

Developed as a pilot project in 2019, Light Up Navajo has provided power to people who have never had electricity before. The program is a partnership between the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) and the American Public Energy Association (APPA), a national trade organization. Recently, 138 workers from across the country, some from the Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation (DEMEC), recently participated in an 11-week project to bring electricity to underserved areas.

“Reservation is considered federal land, and therefore, there are additional permits and costs associated with getting electricity. This project is designed to reduce costs to Navajo residents and increase labor to get more people connected faster,” said Heather Kontant, director of government and community relations at DEMEC. 2019, 233 homes were connected through this project.” “Unfortunately, COVID halted the project in 2020 and 2021. DEMEC sent crews to Light Up Navajo in 2019 as part of a pilot Mutual Humanitarian Assistance project. Light Up Navajo III is currently in progress, and the DEMEC crew just came out in May. Light Up Navajo III is an 11-week project that hopes to connect another 200 homes. The Navajo Nation is roughly the size of West Virginia and connects across four states. There are approximately 15,000 people in the Navajo Nation who do not have access to electricity and would like to hook up. The average income for Navajo Nation residents is just over $10,000 a year.”

Crews have provided electricity for the first time in the homes of the Navajo Nation

Kimbri Schelichting, President and CEO of DEMEC, is a member of the APPA Board of Directors. In 2019, Walter Haas took over as General Manager of NTUA and explained the problems that the people of the Navajo Nation face when it comes to getting electricity. Schellching, who was also the regional coordinator for mutual aid, worked with APPA and NTUA to set up the pilot. At the annual dinner in 2018, members watched a presentation on electrical issues at the Navajo Nation, and in April 2019, line workers from Milford and Smyrna were among those who helped with the project. In May 2022, line workers from Smryna, Seaford and Newark spent time in the Navajo Nation providing electrical service. The project was also supported by a generous donation from CPower.

“Line workers partner with NTUA electricians to do everything from the poles and wires connecting the electrical distribution system to the wires and meter connections that connect directly to their homes,” said Contant. “The crews would go out for one week and work 12 hours a day in desert conditions at a much higher altitude than in Delaware. Sometimes the bucket trucks could be used, other times the line workers had to climb up the electricity poles themselves to do work. Safety is of paramount importance while working in remote residences.”

According to Contant, approximately 15,000 Navajo residents live without electricity and running water, which is about 70 percent of the country. Because they do not have access to electricity, they must heat their homes with wood, coal or kerosene heaters. They also can’t use refrigerators which means they rely on coolers and buy food every few days. Many must visit a local well to get water and that well can be miles away. Some rely on generators that require gasoline to operate.

Homes in the Navajo Nation receive electricity for the first time

“My participation in this year’s project was different from 2019 when I had the opportunity to meet and visit with more families as our staff worked on running the service in their homes,” said Schilching. They shared their family history and talked about the importance of their dwellings and their desire to survive there. They have very deep roots and ties to the land and it is very important for them to pass on their ways and their culture to their children.”

The project occurs annually other than the two that were canceled due to the pandemic. DEMEC intends to continue participating in the project and is invested in its vision to remain successful.

“I realized how fortunate we are to have easy access to electricity every day. It took a long time to get electricity to each of the seven homes we got from electricity,” said Greg Shevchuk, DEMEC Team Leader, Newark. to 90 degrees combined with sandy and rocky terrain. It was tough on the vehicles and your body, but it’s worth knowing that someone would have a light and a cool fridge without using a generator. It was an honor to work with Fred Jim of NTUA and his crew from Red Mesa Utah. I’d like to come back in the future to help out again.”

Conant commented that DEMEC and its member communities are forever connected to the Navajo people and NTUA after participating in the project.

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