A Moral Imperative
Lori Burkhart is Managing Editor of Public Utilities Fortnightly.
Sometimes a story just draws you in. It helps to have an eloquent and dedicated speaker telling that story. Such is the case with Wally Haase, general manager, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, who spoke at the American Public Power Association's National Conference on June 19, 2018, on the over fifteen-thousand families or sixty thousand people living within the Navajo nation without access to electricity.
Let that sink in. Because as he tells it, and you easily can figure out, if you don't have access to electricity, then you don't have access to running water. Or many of what we would call the necessities of life.
Haase explains that means the families must take a two hundred and fifty-gallon plastic tank, hoist it on the back of a pick-up truck or trailer, then drive for an hour to an hour and a half to one of the watering points and fill it up.
Without electricity, you don't have refrigeration. According to Haase, when families go to the watering point, and the water will last about four or five days, depending on how conservative a family is, that's also where to buy groceries and ice to preserve the perishables at an adjacent convenience store. That's basically a gas station that sells food next to it. The families bring the food and water home and the cycle begins again.
The situation in the Navajo Nation is complicated by geography. It is in an extremely rural area that covers twenty-seven thousand square miles. For comparison, the state of West Virginia is approximately twenty-five thousand and five hundred square miles. The Navajo Nation sits in three states — Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.
Haase explains that the NTUA was created in 1959 because investor-owned utilities, co-ops and municipals that were to serve the region just didn't meet the utility needs of the Navajo people. He emphasizes that Navajo homesteads are typically located in rural isolated areas.
How to solve this problem?
Haase says the first few times he gave speeches on this issue that people came up to him and said not only should this never have happened, but the government should fix this. After all, the government helped the rest of the United States back in the 1930s with the Rural Electrification Administration, now the Rural Utilities Service.
He thought the key was awareness. Haase spent the last ten years of his life trying to make the government aware of this situation and with mild success. The result is the connection of over three thousand families during that ten-year period, amounting to over twelve-thousand people helped. But Haase correctly calls it too slow of a course of action.
Haase said it best in his speech at the APPA conference: "To me it's a moral imperative; it shouldn't have occurred in the first place and we need to find a solution to the problem."
Fast forward one month to July 10, 2018 when I watched Wally Haase walk to the podium at the Smart Electric Power Alliance's Grid Evolution Summit in Washington, D.C., to receive its 2018 Visionary of the Year Award. He was introduced by Counsel to the National Association of State Energy Officials, Jeffrey Genzer, who spoke of Haase's Herculean feat to bring electricity onto tribal land.
But you aren't named a SEPA visionary by accepting that so many people still don't have electricity to their homes. Haase does not give up.
Realizing that more must be done, and faster, Haase now is working on a volunteer program that is being introduced in September 2018. Using the hashtag #LIGHTUPNAVAJO, also called "Light Up the Navajo Nation," you can register online to take part in efforts by the APPA and NTUA in a pilot program to bring electricity to homes without it.
The goal is that this will serve as a successful model for continued efforts to turn on the lights for all Navajo homes that hope to connect to the grid. Volunteers will be working with NTUA crews to help build electric lines to serve homes for the first time.
The effort needs teams of experienced line-workers who are committed to helping give power to those in need. Many of the electrification projects are spread out, and resources can be limited, so volunteers are asked to to commit to at least two weeks of volunteer linework.
On Sept. 10 and 11, 2018, NTUA will host a planning meeting on the Navajo Nation in Window Rock, Arizona, following its Engineering and Operations Technical Conference planning meeting. This meeting is intended to provide volunteers and interested utilities with more information about the projects, required resources, weather conditions, travel plans, and more.
Haase asked me to let you know that matching funds are available to help encourage volunteers and alleviate the financial burden.
Visit Light Up the Navajo Nation, www.publicpower.org/lightupnavajo, for the registration form and more information on how you can help Light Up the Navajo Nation. Even if you don't have the required skills for installing power lines, there is more you can do.
You can spread the word about this powerful project. When you follow that link, you will find a flyer you can post with valuable information plus a quick one-page summary to help you communicate key points about the effort to your colleagues and leadership.
Some of these Navajo families have never known electricity in their homes. Please consider joining this effort. It's a moral imperative.