Navajo Nation Council supports Congressional legislation for Navajo Nation electricity infrastructure

(Photo: Navajo Nation Council)

Press Pool

Pandemic shows extent of need for immediate infusion of money, resources into Nation’s electrical infrastructure

News Release

24th Navajo Nation Council - Office of the Speaker

U.S. Senators Martha McSally, R-AZ, and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., announced Thursday legislation that would allocate $89 million in federal funding to the Navajo Electrification Demonstration Project (NEDP).

“The coronavirus pandemic shows the extent of the need for an immediate infusion of money and resources into the Navajo Nation’s electrical infrastructure. For decades, Navajos have exported energy for massive cities under old contracts and agreements. We support the work of Senator McSally and Senator Heinrich towards breathing new life into this extremely critical program for the Navajo People,” said 24th Navajo Nation Council Speaker Seth Damon (Baahaali, Chilchiltah, Manuelito, Red Rock, Rock Springs, Tsayatoh).

The Navajo Electrification Demonstration Project was established through the U.S. Department of Energy under Public Law 106-511. That legislation was sponsored in 1999 by Senator Jeff Bingaman, with support from Senator Pete Domenici, and was signed into law by President Clinton in 2000.

The law authorized the creation of the program and up to $15 million every year for five years to meet the electricity needs of the Navajo People. Beginning in 2002, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) was designated by the Navajo Nation Council to carry out the electrification project on behalf of the Nation.

The program was later extended through 2011 by the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005. Over the entire 10-year period, only $14.5 million was appropriated by Congress for Navajo Electrification Demonstration Project.

“Senator McSally and Senator Heinrich have paid close attention to the needs of the Navajo People, and this federal legislation reflects what we have called for since the former Navajo Electrification Demonstration Project expired,” said Council Delegate Wilson Stewart, Jr. (Crystal, Fort Defiance, Red Lake, Sawmill).

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority estimates that more than 15,000 homes on the Navajo Nation do not have connections to the electric grid. As of the most recent American Community Survey 5-year estimates, there are more than 46,000 occupied housing units on the Navajo Nation with an average household size that is 37.4 percent higher than the national average.

“The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority didn’t have the development capacity that it does now at the turn of the century. And with that, the Navajo Nation itself is better positioned to make full use of every penny of electricity infrastructure funding through a reauthorized and funded Navajo Electrification Demonstration Project,” said Council Delegate Mark Freeland (Becenti, Lake Valley, Nahodishgish, Standing Rock, Whiterock, Huerfano, Nageezi, Crownpoint).

Previously, the Navajo Nation Council approved an intergovernmental request through Resolution No. NABIMA-15-11 that asked Congress to reauthorize and fund the Navajo Electrification Demonstration Program for another 10 years.

The resolution states: “Using funds appropriated through Navajo Electrification Demonstration Project the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority has been able to enhance the electrical infrastructure on the Navajo Nation and provide first time electrical services to 1,689 homes.”

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, the Navajo Nation Council, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, the Division of Community Development, local Chapter communities, and other federal programs have identified a widespread lack of electrical infrastructure as a key environmental factor impacting response efforts.

The scattered nature of Navajo homesteads follows from traditional and customary land use practices. However, these conditions necessitate greater engineering and construction investments which are often the responsibility of the utility customer.

The previous Navajo Electrification Demonstration Program considered the cost-effectiveness of providing power line infrastructure to the most remote areas and provided alternatives, such as solar and wind power, to serve homes that were the most inaccessible. Those same initiatives would be supported with the proposed legislation.

“We call on the members of Congress to support this important legislation as it did before. With the sponsorship of Senator McSally and Senator Heinrich, the Navajo Nation hopes to see this become a reality again within our lifetime,” said Council Delegate Kee Allen Begay, Jr. (Tachee/Blue Gap, Many Farms, Nazlini, Tselani/Cottonwood, Low Mountain).

The former Navajo Tribal Council created the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) in 1959 to develop and maintain public utilities for the Navajo People. Since then, the Navajo Nation Council has continued to support the development of power line infrastructure with both internal and external resources.

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