Earth Notes - Powering the Rez

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Powering the Rez

A program to power the Navajo Nation is meeting real needs with the latest in green technology.

In a partnership with New Mexico's Sandia National Laboratories, the Navajo Utility Authority has powered hundreds of homes with brand new solar panels. Some also boost their wattage with a small windmill.

The solar-wind hybrid units produce nearly 900 watts of electricity on a normally sunny day, especially if a good evening breeze spins the windmill. That's enough for the basics, but not enough for extensive use of energy hogs like hairdryers, or lighting a porch all night with a conventional light bulb.

As a result, residents benefiting from the new systems are learning conservation. They're installing compact fluorescent bulbs, weatherizing old homes, and routing kitchen appliances through a single power strip with an on-off switch. And they're learning to read a new meter that looks like a miniature traffic light. Green means it's safe to use electricity, yellow means lighten the load, and red means power down.

Program officers say older Navajos are having an easier time living within their electricity budget, because it's more in line with traditional lifestyles. Terry Battiest (B t-TEAST) is a Choctaw tribal member who was initially an intern for the Navajo-Sandia labs collaboration. Now he works for the Navajo Nation.

He says the main goal is still to provide electricity to an estimated 18,000 reservation homes that still lack it. But he says that won't happen without conserving the power that's already out there.

-Anne Minard