In October 2018, Swinerton Renewable Energy was awarded the 28MW Kayenta II project in Arizona. Not only are Kayenta I & II the first large scale solar facilities on Navajo land, but they are also the largest tribally owned renewable power plants in the country. For SRE, however, this project goes far beyond the bottom line. It’s about providing the Navajo with something we take for granted—electricity.
Imagine life without electricity; without television, computers, tablets, video games, or cell phones. Picture life where refrigerators don’t exist, where running water, showers, and plumbing are non-existent. For approximately 15,000 families on the Navajo Nation, this is reality. With four people in an average household, this equates to roughly 60,000 people. These numbers represent nearly 75% of all the households without electricity in the entire United States.
Not only do 32% of homes lack electricity, but 86% of them lack natural gas. To compensate for these needs, kerosene lanterns or rigged car batteries are used as power sources. The emissions from kerosene and batteries cause many health issues including asthma, cataracts, heart disease, strokes, and lung cancer.
It’s critical for Navajo families to maintain traditional ties to the ancestral land which is why their homes are located in very remote areas and the core of the family, or the elders, maintain the family homesteads where their families have lived for generations. Because their traditional economy is based on farming and livestock, they often live on large parcels of land which creates significant distances between neighboring homes, producing the lowest number of utility customers per square mile in the United States.
The need for electricity is great, but the cost of materials and labor to connect homes to the grid is even greater. As such, it is often cost-prohibitive for utility companies to provide services to individual homes on much of the land. Not only that, but independently financing the cost to acquire electrical services is secondary to meeting their basic needs of food and shelter.
To connect each home is a daunting goal that requires innovative and pioneering solutions. One of these initiatives is the “Light Up Navajo” campaign. SRE’s client, the Navajo Tribal Utility Association (NTUA), approached SRE to participate in the campaign, which aligns with one of SRE’s biggest philosophies – investing in the communities in which we build.
SRE has also teamed up with NTUA’s Renewable Energy Specialist. He is partnering with SRE and Goal Zero to do a solar lighting project through the Navajo Nation called “The Lightmakers Project.” Goal Zero provides portable power sources that can charge a variety of devices without being connected to the grid. We are starting with 10 homes and now coordinating our installation dates. All labor is donated
Honoring Diné Tradition Through Sustainable Living
SRE’s Jennifer Hershman and Brian Doll attended the Navajo Sustainability Symposium on April 29. They then headed to Monument Valley to see the Kayenta site. There they met with a young Diné woman who returned to her Navajo land after graduating from college, where she is currently working on the Kayenta site. Jennifer and Brian were invited into her home to better understand their way of life.
She lives in a Hogan, which is a traditional single-family dwelling that 25% of Navajos call home. Entirely self-built, all Hogan materials are harvested from the land, completely sustainable, and off the grid. SRE was honored to be invited inside and get a small glimpse of their way of life. She was quoted as saying, “The sun is the giver of life and continues to be the giver of life.” We feel exactly that way, too!
Sean Begay, who is a Senior Project Engineer working on this site, grew up near the Monument Valley. Working there has provided the opportunity to see the work we do impact his community, not only through job creation, but also through the SRE jobsite crew’s ongoing participation in area clean ups and food donations at the Senior Center. He sees solar energy as a way for the Diné to protect and give back to Mother Earth, in line with traditional Navajo teaching.
About the Navajo
They call themselves Diné, which means The People. To the rest of the world, they are known as Navajo. Creation stories tell of struggle and evolution through three spiritual worlds, and finally emergence into this world and their present homeland, Dinetah. A homeland defined by four scared mountains: Mt. Blanca in central Colorado, Mt. Taylor in New Mexico, the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona, and Mt. Hesperus in southwestern Colorado. It is a Nation within a Nation.
Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the United States, covering 25,000 square miles—roughly the size of Maine. They are the largest Native American tribe in the United States with an estimated population of 300,000 Navajos; approximately 190,000 Navajos reside within Navajo territory. Its landscape includes national treasures such as Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly.
Navajo land is unique because the people have achieved something quite rare—the ability of an indigenous people to blend both tradition and modern ways of life. Their way of life is rich in traditions and customs; it is a living culture practiced daily. The Navajo language is still spoken today. It remains the primary language and is the preferred form of communication, especially for the elderly.
The Navajo people are intricately tied to their families and the events that surround their loved ones. Their culture—deep rooted with traditions and customs—has a centered kinship referred to as Ke’. It signifies the connectedness to family, clan, tribe, and community. It is defined by action and solidarity, encompassed by compassion, kindness, friendliness, generosity, and peacefulness. Ke’ is a central theme in everything they do, requiring constant awareness of the relationships and interconnectedness between one and the environment.
For information on how to assist the Navajo Nation in their needs for electricity, visit: www.gofundme.com/light-up-the-navajonation