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Thousands of Navajo Homes to Get Electricity for First Time

Fannie Shorthair stands in front of her house in the Navajo Nation, which has been without electric power for her entire life. (Salt River Project)
Fannie Shorthair stands in front of her house in the Navajo Nation, which has been without electric power for her entire life. (Salt River Project)
April 26, 2019

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Crews from the Salt River Project and other power utilities are leaving this weekend to install electric power for the first time to thousands of homes in the Navajo Nation.

The effort, known as "Light Up Navajo," will wire more than 15,000 homes in northeast Arizona and northwest New Mexico, many of which have never been connected to the power grid. Bret Marquese, director of distribution maintenance with the Salt River Project, says they're one of 24 community-owned utilities from 12 states to support electrification efforts by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.

"Having homes without power in 2019 was news to us,” says Marquese. “And so, I think just the communication and getting that word out, right here in our own backyard, being a utility here in Arizona, obviously, and having residents in Arizona that don't have power was humbling for us."

Marquese says the project is coordinated by the American Public Power Association.

SRP's line crews will depart Tempe on Saturday to begin setting miles of wooden poles and stringing conductor lines through the Navajo Nation. The crews will be working in and around Leupp, Bird Springs and Steamboat, Arizona.

He says by Monday, they hope to energize their first home.

Navajo Nation resident Fannie Shorthair, who is in her late 70s, says she's waited her entire life for electricity. She says as a child, her mother used to reassure her that, "It would come, eventually."

She says when her home gets power for the first time, "I'm going to open my book and I'm going to read. And then, I'm going to make toast. And then I'm going to ... watch TV," Shorthair laughs.

Marquese says his utility will rotate its 10-person crews with a new group each week. A total of 26 SRP line workers will have an opportunity to participate through May 18.

"We've participated in Hurricane Sandy, in Puerto Rico last year,” says Marquese. “We've been to California a handful of times. And so, I just think it's a unique opportunity for us to help residents right here in Arizona and the Navajo Nation and help bring power to people that have been waiting for decades."

Marquese says about 15,000 homes in the 27,000 square-mile Navajo Nation – roughly the size of West Virginia – do not have electricity. He says it costs about $5,500 for the materials to wire each house.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ