Powering the Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation extends more than 27,000 square miles of reservation land in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Across the reservation, approximately 13,500 Navajo households do not have access to electricity—a hardship that undoubtedly contributes to a higher rate of unemployment and lower health outcomes.

To combat this disparity and connect Americans living on Navajo lands to the electric grid, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority launched the Light Up Navajo mutual aid project in 2019.

The effort connects groups of line workers from electric utilities around the country who volunteer their time and expertise, running community power lines and wiring individual homes. NTUA provides lodging and food for the volunteers, many of whom traveled cross-country to support this cause. In 2023, CoBank’s board of directors approved a $350,000 contribution to NTUA, establishing a matching grant that will encourage others to donate to this critical effort.

Life on the Reservation

Fulfilling daily needs and tasks without electricity is time-consuming and costly. For some families, this means driving three hours round-trip to buy gasoline or propane to run a generator. For others, it means driving 90 minutes to the grocery store and buying food for as long as an ice chest will keep it fresh. Already, Light Up Navajo has shown the positive impacts a home with electricity can have, including peace of mind for parents.

Marlanda Dugi is a mother of five boys whose house was recently connected with electricity. Speaking in Navajo, Dugi said, “Now that we have electricity, the boys don’t have to worry about where they are going to plug in their phones or how they are going to cook dinner. The boys will also be able to do their homework without worrying about flashlight batteries dying."

Dugi first applied for Light Up Navajo in 2012 and on November 1, 2023, she finally turned the lights on. “Daily life will be a lot easier—and we are especially excited to have Christmas lights at home for the very first time,” Dugi said.

People Helping People

Each year, electric cooperatives and other power companies send crews to the Navajo Nation to lay power lines and electrify individual homes. The one- to three-week sessions offer development opportunities for beginning line workers as well as opportunities for tenured line workers to work in new terrain. At the same time, the volunteer crews learn new techniques from the NTUA linemen, who share how they adapt to the unique conditions on the reservation.

“Light Up Navajo is an initiative with a common purpose—to help improve the standard of lives for Navajo families living without electricity. It creates partnerships with entities that believe in that purpose—extending electricity to American families who have been waiting for electric power,” said NTUA General Manager Walter Haase.

“We know families want to live without the worry of basic life-essentials," he continued. "Through strong partnerships, we can erase those burdens and make life easier.”

“CoBank is honored to support this opportunity. Most of our customer-owners and associates have never known life without access to reliable electricity. Those living on the Navajo Nation deserve that same access. Electricity is an essential public service fundamental to health, education, safety and prosperity for every community,” said Tom Halverson, president and CEO of CoBank.

Those interested in contributing to Light Up Navajo can visit NTUA.com to learn how to make financial or in-kind contributions or sign up to volunteer.

This story was originally published in the CoBank 2023 Sustainability Report.