homepage logo

Provo Power crew aids in connecting Navajo Nation homes to electricity

By Curtis Booker - | May 22, 2024

Courtesy Provo Power

In this photo taken in May 2024, members of Provo Power assist in the Light Up Navajo project to electrify homes on an Arizona reservation.

Until the middle of July, electric line workers from across the country are volunteering in efforts to connect families in the Navajo Nation to a vitally needed resource: electrical power.

In a territory spanning over 27,000 miles serviced by the National Tribal Utility Authority, the realities of living life without electricity aren’t uncommon, as 32% of residents lack access to basic utility services. That rounds out to over 13,000 families who don’t have power, according to NTUA data.

Don Willes, a journeyman lineman with Provo Power, along with three other crew members spent a week helping build and set 30 power poles and pulling wires to connect the homes of Navajo families to the electric grid that have never been connected before.

“We did end up getting to meet some of the people that were in line to start picking up some of that power,” Willes told the Daily Herald.

The work is part of the NTUA’s 2024 Light Up Navajo project, in a mutual aid partnership with the American Public Power Association bringing together utility companies that represent public power, rural cooperatives and independent system operators, according to the agency’s website.

The partnership began in 2019, and in that year, over 200 regional families were able to receive electricity. In 2023, the project’s efforts powered up 159 homes.

Efforts hit a brief snag due to COVID-19, though the NTUA continued on its mission and extended power to several hundred homes in 2020. Provo Power had initially signed up to help in both 2020 and 2021 but was unable to make the trip because of restrictions on the reservation related to the pandemic.

“Now they’ve just gotten to the point where they’ve opened it back up for any help they can get, so they’re getting quite a response. But we (were) working with crews from all across the nation,” Willes said.

This year, around 42 electric companies from 16 states are participating in Light Up Navajo through July 20. The goal is to connect at least 200 homes to the electric grid.

The Navajo Nation encompasses a portion of each state in the Four Corners region: Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. The four-person Provo Power crew that participated focused on a section of Arizona somewhere between Tuba City and Page, arriving May 12 and returning home a week later.

Light Up Navajo supplied needed materials, while Provo Power supplied their own trucks and equipment needed to do the work.

“We are grateful for the outside utilities who want to help bring positive change for families waiting for electricity,” NTUA General Manager Walter Haase said in a press release. “The communities these utilities represent learned about our challenges and were prompted to be a part of this dramatically meaningful project.”

For Willes and the Provo Power crew who members traveled to northern Arizona, they were able to electrify at least one home in their assigned area and had the opportunity to meet some of the residents. “They’re pretty grateful for having all these people come down, and they understand they’re leaving their families,” Willes said.

Scott Bunker, assistant director of Provo Power, says they’ve been working closely with the Navajo Nation and their first time participating on-site proved to be a success. It’s unclear at this time if the electricity provider will send volunteers again in the future, but it is likely. “We felt the project aligns perfectly because our goal as a municipal utility is to provide safe, reliable power and the modern benefits electricity provides such as lighting, heating, air conditioning and refrigeration of food to the citizens of Provo,” Bunker said. “Based on the success of this one, we may participate in future opportunities in coming years.”

Willes said being able to step in and provide a service addressing a vital need such as basic electricity is part of the fabric of what municipal power companies do, no matter the location. “When linemen get a call to go help, that’s what they do. They do it all across the nation, (for) everybody, including the Navajo Nation,” he said.


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)