Jeff Wood was flat out taken aback.
The town of Smyrna lineworker quickly realized his purpose for visiting the Navajo Nation last month.
“I can’t believe in 2022 there are people in the United States that want electricity and have to wait years to get it,” said Mr. Wood.
“It was an unbelievable experience working on the reservation (and) something I won’t forget. I am glad I was a small part of something big (and) am looking forward to going back if I am lucky enough.”
Mr. Wood was part of a five-member Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation contingent that headed west and spent May 14-20 hooking up power to seven homes. Linemen from Seaford and Newark also participated.
They contributed to the “Light Up Navajo” project that began in 2019 and brought 358 connections for families in the first three years. As the end of June neared, participating companies were still working to reach an overall goal of 300 family hookups.
There’s a lot of work left to do since roughly 15,000 families in the Navajo Nation are still seeking power. The nation is roughly the size of West Virginia and surrounded by Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
According to the corporation, crews used 12-hour shifts to utilize poles through bucket trucks or climbing and hook up power lines with meters that directly connect to the homes.
“I realized how fortunate we are having it with easy access to electricity every day. It took a lot of time to get power to each of the seven homes we got electricity to,” said crew leader Greg Shevchuck, who works for the city of Newark. “(There were) long hour days in the 90-degree heat along with sand and rock terrain.
“It was hard on the vehicles and your body, but it was well worth it knowing someone was going to have light and a cold refrigerator without the use of a generator.”
According to corporation president and CEO Kimberly Schlichting, who accompanied the linemen, “There is nothing more rewarding and yet humbling than to bring the essential service of electricity to families who do not have it.
“To see firsthand and share in their excitement and overwhelming joy when the lights go on for the first time in their homes moves the soul beyond words. I remain involved to help highlight the need in the Navajo Nation and to see the initiative grow until all families have this basic service that the rest of us enjoy so freely.
“With the electrification of the nation, we all should be asking, why were they left behind?”
After visiting the nation in 2019, Ms. Schlichting said this year’s experience was different because “I had the opportunity to meet and visit with more families as our linemen worked to run service to their homes. They shared their family history and talked about the importance of their homesteads and their desire to remain living there.
“They have very deep roots and ties to the land and it’s very important for them to pass along their ways and culture to their children.”
According to the corporation, the average annual income for residents is a little over $10,000.
Light Up Navajo is a partnership between the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and the American Public Power Association. There were 138 lineworkers nationwide participating in this year’s six-month program.