Navajo Nation Electricity

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75% of Americans without electricity live on the Navajo Nation. The documentary “Beyond the Grid” looks at why something as simple as turning on lights is so difficult for so many people living on the Navajo Nation. The documentary is produced by students from Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.

THOMAS WALKER, JR.: WHY IN THE WORLD ARE PEOPLE LIVING WITHOUT MODERN DAY ELECTRICITY?

SANDRA BEGAY: WHEN WE PASS THE CERTAIN AREA OF NAVAJO, THERE ARE HIGH VOLTAGE LINES YOU CAN SEE FROM THE ROAD. BELOW THEM YOU SEE A TRADITIONAL NAVAJO HOGAN. WE HAVE ELECTRICITY GENERATED WITH RESOURCES TO POWER METROPOLITAN AREAS AND THERE IS A FAMILY WITHOUT POWER.

VIRCYNTHIA CHARLEY: I OFTEN WONDER HOW MUCH WE LOST OUR NATURAL RESOURCES DELIVERING POWER ELSEWHERE AND NOTHING CAME BACK TO THE RESERVATION.

JIHAN GEARON: NAVAJO NATION IS THE BATTERY OF THE SOUTHWEST. WE HAVE AIR POLLUTION SIMILAR TO DENVER, COLORADO. WHERE IS IT COMING FROM? WE DON'T LIVE IN A CITY. WE DON'T USE A LOT OF ENERGY AS CITIZENS ON THE RESERVATION SO IT'S THE POWER PLANTS. WE ARE SURROUNDED BY COAL FIRE POWER PLANTS AND THE THREE LISTED ON THE RESERVATION ARE THE THREE BIGGEST IN THE WEST.

VIRCYNTHIA CHARLEY: IN A SENSE, WE TOOK IT FOR GRANTED THAT WE WOULD GROW WITH THAT INFORMATION. THE REASON THEY ARE NOT CONNECTED TO THE GRID IS BECAUSE OF THE AMOUNT OF COSTS, REALLY.

SANDRA BEGAY: IT'S $35,000 PER MILE TO EXTEND THE GRID. THAT'S OUT OF THE POCKET OF THE INDIVIDUAL. I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT I DON'T HAVE THAT KIND OF MONEY LAYING AROUND TO PUT IN ELECTRICITY.

VIRCYNTHIA CHARLEY: MY GRANDMOTHER, I WAS HOPING SHE WOULD GET UTILITY SERVICES BEFORE SHE PASSED. THAT WAS MY COMMITMENT TO SERVE THOSE PEOPLE. I WAS BUMMED THAT THEY WERE NOT ABLE TO EXPERIENCE IT.

SANDRA BEGAY: THE UNIQUE SOLUTION WAS USING SOLAR SYSTEMS TO GIVE THEM ELECTRICITY.

BENNIE BLACK: I HAVE BEEN HAVING A SOLAR SYSTEM FOR PROBABLY A GOOD FIVE YEARS NOW. MY DAUGHTER'S MEDICINE IS HOW WE GOT THE SOLARS TOO. WE USE THAT TO KEEP IT COOL.

SANDRA BEGAY: THERE IS A DIRECT TIE NOW FROM HEALTH OF A POPULATION TO THE USE OF ELECTRICITY, PARTICULARLY FOR REFRIGERATION.

THOMAS WALKER, JR.: ELECTRICITY FROM THE SOLAR PANELS ARE LIMITED. WE CAN'T USE ALL OF THE APPLIANCES TOGETHER AT ONCE. WE CAN'T USE THEM FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME.

BENNIE BLACK: BEFORE THE SUN GOES DOWN, WE HAVE TO TURN OFF DEVICES LIKE THE LIGHTS. WE CAN USE ONLY ONE OR TWO LIGHTS.

VIRCYNTHIA CHARLEY: AT ONE POINT WE HAVE TO SUPPLY THE RIGHT AMOUNT TO THEM.

SANDRA BEGAY: IT'S COST. WHAT'S AFFORDABLE TO PEOPLE? YOU HAVE THE APPETITE, NEED FOR ENERGY VERSUS HOW MUCH PEOPLE CAN AFFORD.

BENNIE BLACK: THIS ONE, I PAY $105 A MONTH. IT DOESN'T FLUCTUATE. IT'S THE SAME PAYMENT.

VIRCYNTHIA CHARLEY: IT'S GREAT TO SEE CUSTOMERS WHEN THEY GET UTILITY SERVICES FOR THE FIRST TIME. YOU SEE CHILDREN TURNING ON ALL THE LIGHTS IN THE HOME TO SEE IF IT ALL WORKS.

BENNIE BLACK: I WAS EXCITED THE FIRST DAY.

VIRCYNTHIA CHARLEY: HOW DID IT FEEL GETTING ELECTRICITY FOR THE FIRST TIME? IT FELT DIFFERENT. WE WEREN'T ACCUSTOMED TO IT. WE STILL USED A FLASHLIGHT EVEN THOUGH WE HAD A SWITCH TO TURN ON THE LIGHT.

SANDRA BEGAY: SOMETIMES PEOPLE SAY, WHY DOESN'T SHE JUST MOVE? YOU HAVE TO REALLY UNDERSTAND, THAT'S JUST SUCH A NAIVE THING TO THINK ABOUT. THIS WOMAN HAS LIVED HERE HER WHOLE LIFE. IT'S HER CHOICE.

THOMAS WALKER, JR.: WE ARE OUT HERE WHERE NATURE RULES AND WE COMPLY. ON ANY GIVEN DAY WE ACCEPT WITH APPRECIATION NATURE TAKING CARE OF US, THE EARTH AND SUN IN THIS BEAUTIFUL PLACE WE CALL HOME.

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