Provo Power crew helping bring electricity to Navajo Nation homes

Members of the Provo Power crew help with an electrification effort in the Navajo Nation on Monday.

Members of the Provo Power crew help with an electrification effort in the Navajo Nation on Monday. (Provo Power)

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TUBA CITY, Arizona — Learning of the challenges some Navajo Nation residents face in powering their homes came as a surprise to Scott Bunker, assistant director of Provo Power, the municipal electricity provider in Provo.

"Some are still cooking by fire," he said. "It's kind of shocking."

In fact, around 13,500 homes on the Navajo Nation lack a connection to the power grid, representing nearly one-third of the 186,500 residents on the reservation, according to Navajo Tribal Utility Authority figures. As of 2019, around 15,000 Navajo Nation homes lacked power, which the American Public Power Association said at the time represented around 75% of all U.S. households without electricity.

Any way you look at it, the issue is significant, and to help, a Provo Power crew is in the Navajo Nation this week installing power lines to augment electricity access. The four-man crew — helping the Navajo Nation as part of its Light Up Navajo initiative — arrived on Sunday and will keep working through this coming Sunday.

Bunker said the crew is helping install power poles and stringing up lines and has so far lit up at least one home with a connection. The Navajo Nation covers southeastern Utah, northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona, and the Provo crew is helping in the Arizona zone, around Tuba City and Page.

"It can be quite an amazing experience to witness that," said Bunker, who isn't part of the Provo Power team in the Navajo nation. Provo Power had hoped to send crews to the Navajo Nation in 2020 and 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented those plans.

Provo Power is supplying manpower and use of its trucks while the Navajo Nation is providing the needed materials. The Light Up Navajo initiative, by recruiting the help of utility companies like Provo Power, defrays costs for the Navajo Nation, helping with quicker expansion of the power grid in its confines. Provo Power is one of 26 utility companies from 16 states that'll be taking part in this year's installment of Light Up Navajo, which extends through late July with the goal of connecting 200 homes to the grid.

"Our Provo Power line crew is making great strides on the Light Up Navajo project!" Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi said in a Facebook post on Tuesday. "Proud of their hard work and dedication to bringing power to the Navajo Nation."

Expanding the power grid can have a big impact on the lives of Navajo Nation residents. Lack of access to electricity "means food and groceries can't last more than a few days, homework is done under the dome light of the family car and hefty expenses are incurred to run generators as needed," reads American Public Power Association promotional material for the Light Up Navajo effort.

But it's an expensive proposition, necessitating efforts like Light Up Navajo. According to a Navajo Nation report last year to New Mexico lawmakers, connecting all 13,500 families who lack power to the grid could cost around $1 billion. Thanks to Light Up Navajo last year, 159 homes were connected to the grid while 137 homes were connected to the grid in 2022.

The Navajo Nation has also been building solar farms to help meet its power needs, though some of the electricity generated is sold to customers off the reservation. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy preliminarily announced it would award an Arizona company an $8 million grant to be used to expand off-grid solar energy access to 300 Navajo Nation homes.

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Tim Vandenack covers immigration, multicultural issues and Northern Utah for He worked several years for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden and has lived and reported in Mexico, Chile and along the U.S.-Mexico border.


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