Department of Agriculture approves $235 mil loan package for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority

April 1, 2021

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
April 1, 2021

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently approved a $235 million loan package to the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) for electric infrastructure improvements and system expansion.

The news was unveiled by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on March 16, announcing that NTUA is part of the $598 million rural electric loan package.

The program is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to bring affordable electric power to rural residents, Tribal communities, community facilities, schools and medical institutions that perform critical services each day.

“NTUA continues to work together with its partners to expand and complete power line connections and other critical infrastructure projects. With the CARES Act funds received last year, NTUA expedited projects and their work crews worked seven days a week to connect 737 families to the electric grid,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. “With support from the Biden-Harris Administration, we look to build Back better and provide long-term benefits for our Navajo people through the USDA loan package,” he said in a statement.

The Navajo Nation is among communities in 11 states that were selected to be a part of the program, which will allow NTUA to connect 1,340 families, including building and improving 636 miles of electric powerline throughout the region.

The loan will also provide funding for electric transmission expansions and upgrades, and the construction of three district offices and a safety and training facility.

“This funding source will help NTUA to improve, expand, and modernize its electric transmission and distribution systems,” said NTUA General Manager Walter Haase. “At the same time, it will allow us to meet the Navajo people’s needs while keeping electric utility rates affordable.”

Since NTUA completed the work under the 2020 CARES Act, more than 500 families have requested to be served by our electric utility. Every day NTUA receives new requests, NTUA noted.

The funding source will also be used to build 144 miles of transmission line and 221 miles of distribution line. USDA also noted that $29.4 million of this loan will go to smart grid technologies including 304 miles of backbone fiber.

“The pandemic has placed focus on what is lacking and what needs to be improved,” Haase said. “As an essential service, we know that we have to provide electric, water, wastewater, and broadband services to our unserved citizens as they shelter at home which will help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Light Up Navajo III

Navajo Nation families can now submit applications for Light Up Navajo III, which will begin electric connections in the spring of 2022.

The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American territory in the U.S., with an estimated population of 300,000. Its unelectrified homes make up 75 percent of all unelectrified households in the United States.

To expedite electrification projects in the Navajo Nation, the American Public Power Association partnered with the NTUA to create Light Up Navajo.

Light Up Navajo, which was supported by a $125,000 grant from APPA’s Demonstration of Energy and Efficiency Developments (DEED) program, began in Spring 2019, bringing together volunteer crews from public power utilities across the country to connect Navajo homes to the grid.

In six weeks, the volunteer crews connected more than 230 homes to electricity. More than a dozen members of APPA’s staff and more than 130 individuals from 27 utilities (representing 12 states) joined in the effort.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed plans for Light Up Navajo II, but “APPA continues to work and partner with NTUA and the rest of the public power community to help bring power to those who have been unable to access this essential modern convenience,” Said Alex Hofmann, Vice President, Technical and Operations Services.