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The City Journals

Murray Power to help make Navajo Nation bright

Mar 27, 2019 03:49PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Murray Power will send a truck and crew to help with the Light Up Navajo initiative. (Photo courtesy Navajo Tribal Utility Authority)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Imagine, in 2019, that your home still does not have electricity. For over 60,000 people living in the Navajo Nation, being off the grid is very much a reality. Enter Murray Power, who will send a crew, as part of the “Light Up Navajo” initiative, to help connect residents there to the electrical grid.

Murray City Council unanimously approved Murray Power’s participation on Feb. 19. The city will send one crew of four members and a truck for the week of May 11-18.

“The American Public Power Association (APPA) approached Murray City Power. They explained what was needed and we wanted to be involved. When our line workers heard about this opportunity they were very willing and excited,” said Barbara Ishino, spokesperson for Murray Power. 

Murray Power General Manager Blaine Haacke explained, “This project has been taken on nationally by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA). This is a six-week project that will have five to six crews working on it each week. The city would like to send one crew of four members for the last week of the project. The crew would be working 12-hour days replacing poles and stringing conductors.”

There are groups participating from Illinois, Ohio, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, California, Delaware, Texas, Arkansas, Massachusetts and Utah. The cities in Utah that are participating are Murray, Santa Clara, Washington City, Lehi, St. George and Heber City. Murray is the only city in Utah that is sending a group of four with equipment.

The high cost of connecting isolated rural households to the grid, the sensitivity of families to utility costs, and the limited availability of government loans has made progress towards greater electrification slow. To expedite electrification projects in the Navajo Nation, the APPA, in partnership with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA), launched the Light Up Navajo initiative.

The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American territory in the United States, with an estimated population of 300,000. The Nation occupies portions of northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah and northwestern New Mexico. Among the 55,000 homes located on the 27,000-square-mile reservation, about 15,000 households do not have electricity. They make up 75 percent of all unelectrified households in the United States.

Not having access to electricity has many repercussions for Navajo families as it has deprived families of reliable lighting and appliances, such as refrigerators, toasters and microwaves. To keep food from spoiling, families often use portable coolers filled with ice to preserve their food for a few days. 

Bruce Turner, operations manager of Murray Power, stated, “The mutual aid agreement is similar to the one the city already has with Intermountain Power Superintendents Association (IPSA), except the city won’t be getting paid back for anything. The city will just be supplying time and equipment, and NTUA will supply all the materials and the hotels.” 

Electrifying just one household on the reservation is an expensive endeavor. Each household, on average, requires one transformer, 0.6 miles of wire, nine poles, 16 insulators, and two arrestors to connect to the electric grid; which is an average material cost of around $5,500.

Murray Power will be sending Crew Foreman Justin Larsen, Journeyman Lineman Eric Bracewell, and helpers/apprentices Victor Meza and Tyler Kirkham. The physical area they will be focused on is near Tuba City, Arizona. 

More information regarding Light Up Navajo can be found online at www.publicpower.org/LightUpNavajo.