WADSWORTH — Four members of the city’s Electric and Communications Department are working in the Navajo Nation to bring electricity to homes that have never been powered on the vast reservation.
The four-man crew made up of Karson Kaltenbaugh, Jeremy Lance, Kevin Fink and Tim Parrish arrived last Saturday in the Native American territory located in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah and will work to this Saturday before returning to Wadsworth.
“I guess we just have kind of a service mentality that we like to step up and help out folks that are in need, as folks would come and help us if we are in need,” Service Director Robert Patrick said Monday. “It is really the essence of public power.”
About 15,000 of the 55,000 homes located on the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation territory do not have electricity.
Patrick said he first learned of the project, formally known as “Light Up Navajo,” last fall during the annual American Municipal Power conference through a presentation by the National American Public Power Association.
“It is shocking that in this day and age, there are still so many homes in the U.S. without electricity,” Mike Hyland, senior vice president, engineering and operations, at the American Public Power Association said in a statement.
“The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority has worked hard in recent years to power 3,000 homes. Now, with help from the national public power community, they can do much more. We are touched by the support being offered from so many of our member utilities.”
There are 15 planned projects in the Light Up Navajo initiative, with plans to bring electricity to hundreds of households this spring
Public power utilities from across the country are sending volunteer crews.
While it is not unusual for the city to send crews to assist neighbors in need of assistance, the Navajo Nation is the greatest distance to date that city employees have traveled — roughly 1,760 miles, Patrick said.
He said he has already heard from some individuals who have volunteered their time that it is almost a life-changing experience.
“To be able to see firsthand what these people don’t have and what they are helping to give them and the reactions that these people have had,” he said. “It has been very powerful for them.”
Wadsworth Electric and Communication’s general manager Bill Lyren echoed Patrick’s sentiments.
“It is very satisfying that our employees have a great service attitude to want to go and use their skills to help others, as they do to our community on a daily basis,” he said.
Patrick said it will also provide an opportunity for the volunteers to use their skills while possibility encountering some different challenges than they would back home, and learning some new things on the job.
The Wadsworth Electric and Communications Department has been providing service to residents since 1916, and recently earned a Reliable Public Power Provider diamond level designation from the American Public Power Association
Patrick said having city volunteers participate in the project is in keeping with more than a century of public power tradition of helping those in need.
“We are community based and we understand that you have to constantly give back,” he said. “When our system was built over 100 years ago, we had help from outsiders.”
“We know the importance and we know that long-term benefits those folks out there can have.”