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Utilities From All Over U.S. Install Electricity On Navajo Nation

Utility crews from across the country are coming to the Navajo Nation to install electricity in hundreds of homes that have never had it. It's part of a pilot program to get the tribe on the grid.

More than a quarter of Navajo households live without electricity on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) and the nonprofit American Public Power Associationhave teamed up to change that. They're fund raising and bringing two dozen utility crews from Massachusetts to California and states in between to install electricity in 300 homes over the next several weeks.

"Because they're so far out the average cost to connect up a home over the last three years is about $40,000," said Walter Haase, NTUA general manager. "You can't run hundreds and hundreds of miles of line without having the backbone infrastructure the transmission and distribution stations. So you're talking over time over a $1 billion problem."

Haase said, if NTUA connected up all 15,000 customers who need electricity and spent that $1 billion and got a 0 percent interest rate from the federal government, NTUA would have to raise its rate from $600 per year to $6,000 per year. The average Navajo makes $10,000 a year.

So Haase said to have crews volunteer their time and skills is a huge cost savings for the tribe. NTUA has connected 4,900 homes to the grid over the last decade. He hopes the pilot program will continue to bring electricity to Navajo communities in coming years.

Laurel Morales was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2011 to 2020.