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 Power Association (APPA), a national trade organization. Recently, 138 lineworkers from across the country, some from Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation (DEMEC), recently participated in an 11-week project to bring electricity to underprivileged areas.
“The reservation is considered federal land, therefore, there are extra permits and costs associated with getting electricity. This project was designed to reduce costs to the Navajo people and increase labor to get more people connected faster. In 2019, 233 homes were connected through this project,” Heather Contant, Director of Government and Community Relations for DEMEC, said. “Unfortunately, COVID put a halt to the project in 2020 and 2021. DEMEC sent a crew to Light Up Navajo in 2019 as part of the pilot humanitarian mutual aid project. Light Up Navajo III is currently in progress, and DEMEC just had another crew go out in May. Light Up Navajo III is an 11-week project that hopes to connect 200 more homes. The Navajo Nation is roughly the size of West Virginia and connects across four states. There are roughly 15,000 people in the Navajo Nation without access to electricity that want to be connected. The average income for residents of the Navajo Nation is a little over $10,000 a year.”
Kimbery Schilichting, President and CEO of DEMEC, sits on the Board of Directors for APPA. In 2019, Walter Haase, was General Manager for NTUA and explained the issues the people of the Navajo Nation faced when it came to accessing electricity. Schilichting, who was also a Regional Mutual Aid Coordinator, worked with APPA and NTUA to create the pilot program. At the Annual Dinner in 2018, members watched a presentation about the issues with electricity in the Navajo Nation and, in April 2019, lineworkers from Milford and Smyrna were among those who helped on the project. In May 2022, lineworkers from Smryna, Seaford and Newark spent time in the Navajo Nation to provide electric service. The project was also helped with a generous donation from CPower.
“The lineworkers partner with NTUA’s electric crew to do everything from the poles and wires that connect the electric distribution system to wiring and connecting the meter that connects directly to their homes,” Contant said. “Crews go out for one week and work 12-hour days in desert conditions at significantly higher elevation than in Delaware. Sometimes buckets trucks were able to be used, other times the lineworkers had to climb the utility poles themselves to do the work. Safety is of utmost importance while working on remote homesteads.”
According to Contant, roughly 15,000 Navajo people are without electricity and running water, representing 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 cannot use refrigerators which means they rely on coolers and purchasing food every few days. Many must visit a local well to get water and that well could be miles away. Some rely on generators which require gasoline to operate.
“My participation in this year’s project was different than 2019 in that I had the opportunity to meet and visit with more families as our linemen worked to run service to their homes,” Schilichting said. “They shared their family history and talked about the importance of their homesteads and their desire to remain living there. They have very deep roots and ties to the land and it’s very important for them to pass along their ways and culture to their children.”
The project occurs annually other than the two years it was cancelled due to the pandemic. DEMEC has every intention of staying involved in the project and is invested in seeing it remain successful.
“I realized how fortunate we are having it with easy access to electricity every day. It took a lot of time to get power to each of the seven homes we got electricity to,” Greg Shevchuck, DEMEC Crew Lead, City of Newark, said. “Long hour days in the 90-degree heat along with sand and rock terrain. It was hard on the vehicles and your body, but it was well worth it knowing someone was going to have light and a cold refrigerator without the use of a generator. It was an honor working with NTUA’s Fred Jim and his crew of the Red Mesa Utah District. I would love to go back in the future to help out again.”
Contant commented that DEMEC and their member communities are forever connected to the Navajo people and NTUA after participating in the project.
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