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Latest phase of Light Up Navajo aims to connect 300 homes to the grid

Navajo Electricity
Ryan Heinsius/KNAU
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A Navajo Tribal Utility Authority crew works on a power line on the southwestern portion of the Navajo Nation.

The third phase a major initiative to connect Navajo Nation residents to the electric grid has begun. Volunteer workers from around the country plan to electrify 300 homes on the reservation in the coming months.

Seventeen utilities and other organizations from 11 states including California, North Carolina and Ohio arrived on the reservation earlier this month to resume work on Light Up Navajo. The 10-week project is a partnership between the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and the American Public Power Association, and it’s funded through a combination of grants, donations and volunteer work. According to officials, more than a dozen installations have so far been completed during this phase.

The tribal utility authority’s average cost to connect a home is $40,000, but through Light Up Navajo it’s been lowered to about $8,000.

"The Light Up Navajo initiative has proven to be a success and it contributes to the long-term vision and sustainability of our Nation—this is about Nation building so that our future generations will have strong and prosperous communities to build upon into the future," said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

The project began in 2019 and connected 230 Navajo homes to the grid but has been on hold ever since because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Separately, the tribe has used funding from the federal CARES Act to electrify more than 730 households through off-grid solar installations.

Light Up Navajo is part of an aggressive push by tribal officials to bring electricity, water and high-speed internet to many rural areas. It’s estimated that more than a quarter of residents on the Navajo Nation lack power in their homes.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.