GRDA crews take part in “Light up the Navajo Nation” project

To help electrify 15,000 homes

(GRDA) Thanks to the efforts of the nation’s public power utilities, including the Grand River Dam Authority, thousands of homes on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona are set to receive electricity service for the first time.

In early April, a team of nine GRDA employees traveled to the reservation as part of a mutual aid initiative coordinated by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) and the American Public Power Association (APPA). The “Light up the Navajo Nation” project’s goal is to bring together more than 100 volunteers from 24 public power utilities to build electric distribution infrastructure across the 27,000 square mile reservation.

Of the 55,000 homes located on the reservation, as many as 15,000 do not have electricity. In fact, these homes make up a full 75 percent of all un-electrified households in the United States.

During its time on the reservation, the GRDA team split into two separate crews, each working 12 hour days for five days straight, to bring power to 20 homes for the first time.

“GRDA is pleased to be a part of this initiative to bring much needed electricity into these homes,” said GRDA President/Chief Executive Officer Dan Sullivan. “Providing mutual aid is really foundational to all of public power and this effort is a great illustration of what can be accomplished when these utilities work together.”

Of course, GRDA is no stranger to providing mutual aid to neighbors in need. However, past work has always been done to help another utility restore its system following an ice storm, tornado or hurricane. The “Light up the Navajo Nation” project is the first time GRDA has provided assistance for a new electrification project. Because of the unique nature of this project, the GRDA linemen who participated say it is an experience they will never forget.

“You get out there and you hear some of the stories about a lot of people not having power and that really tugs at your heart,” said Trent Fittje, a GRDA linemen and veteran of several mutual aid trips. “This was people helping people and I am glad I had the chance to be there.”

Another GRDA lineman, Steven Willis, shared about the positive impact electricity would have on a family that would no longer need to refrigerate their child’s medicine at a relative’s home.

“The look on this father’s face when he said “I can put the medicine in my own refrigerator now’ will stick with me from now on,” said Willis.

Echoing Willis’ comments, lineman Brent Scott also shared about the impact electricity was having on another resident’s efforts to warm her home.

“There was an elderly lady, a retired school teacher, who had moved back to the reservation after retirement and lived alone. She had been hauling wood for fuel to keep her warm,” said Scott, adding that an electric heater was now going to make life much easier for her.

Although they battled some difficult terrain, dust storms, high winds, cold weather and even a bit of snow, David Hefner, who served as the GRDA lead in Arizona, called the week of long hours and difficult work a great experience.

“NTUA was very pleased with the work we did and also very grateful to GRDA for allowing us to do this,” said Hefner. “All of us who worked out there are also grateful to everyone within our organization for helping to make this happen.”

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., APPA is the national association for the nation’s 2,000 not-for-profit, community-owned electric utilities and represents public power before the federal government. Collectively, these utilities serve 49 million people across the United States.

Headquartered in Vinita, GRDA is Oklahoma’s state-owned electric utility; fully funded by revenues from electric and water sales instead of taxes. Each day, GRDA strives to be an “Oklahoma agency of excellence” by focusing on the 5 E’s: employees, electricity, economic development, environmental stewardship and efficiency.