It took four weeks of up to 16-hour workdays, but Salt River Project linemen successfully connected more than 50 Navajo families to electric service despite rough terrain, high winds, snow and mud in unfamiliar land.
In all, 56 families on Arizona’s Navajo Nation now have electricity powering their homes for the first time.
“The first home we connected was the most touching for me. It was a mom who was living in a trailer with her children, and they had no power or running water. They had gotten sick with COVID-19 and had to quarantine at home. They were excited (to get power) and telling us how tough it had been the last few months,” said Art Peralta, SRP construction crew foreman, who lives in Mesa.
“It’s very rewarding. I’ve never done anything like this, and it means a lot. It’s life changing and brings more meaning to our job.”
The SRP line crews worked in northeastern Arizona from April 2 to May 8. SRP was one of 14 volunteer utilities from 10 states across the U.S. that participated in the ‘Light Up Navajo’ electrification project led by the American Public Power Association and Navajo Tribal Utility Authority to provide electricity to families who have never before had power.
The project wrapped up last month, providing 200 Native American families with electricity in their homes.
“Light Up Navajo III is an initiative to bring power to all the residents on Navajo Nation. There are about 14,000 homes on the Navajo Nation that currently do not have electric service. The vision back in 2019 was to solicit neighboring utility support primarily from public power utilities like SRP to help build the infrastructure to serve the community,” said Wayne Wisdom, the senior director of distribution grid services at SRP.
“For generations, these families have been living on their own with the use of generators, kerosene lamps or whatever they have.”
During SRP’s participation in the month-long humanitarian effort, line crews constructed about 12 miles of distribution lines. SRP crews also set 193 poles, strung 13 miles of overhead wire and worked 4,500 hours of donated hours.
Jayme Baranek of Chandler said the work tested the skills and abilities of crew members as they needed to keep equipment running with minimal support.
But the opportunity had “special meaning.
“It was an excellent experience helping so many families out and how grateful everyone was,” he said.
“The nation is beautiful tough country. I always admire the culture and how resilient the people are.”
Baranek added: “Our crews put their heart and souls in this project.”
The project marks the second time SRP line workers, based out of the Tempe service center, volunteered to participate in “Light Up Navajo.”
A total of 17 SRP employees from Mesa, Tempe, Queen Creek, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear and Litchfield Park participated in the effort, and SRP donated employee time, line trucks, digging equipment and a mechanic service truck.
“There was a mother, daughter and her two kids in Tuba City, and they were really excited to have power. The kids were excited to be able to entertain themselves without having to turn on a generator and to watch TV. It was nice to get to see that and use our skills to help out,” said Austin D’addabbo, SRP trades helper.
“It’s given me a different outlook on the work we do,” added Peralta. “Sometimes we take it for granted because we do it every single day. But (on the Navajo Nation) it’s not normal for them. They get really excited and are very grateful to get power.”
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