A bright idea

  • Solar hogan drawing

    Diane Sylvain
  When the lights start to dim or the TV won't turn on, some Navajos in Arizona know it's time to drive to a gas station and recharge the car battery. For the 10,000 people who live out of range of the tribal utility's powerlines, car batteries provide a quick, though inconvenient, source of energy. But soon, 80 Navajo households will use batteries that store power from the sun. The Western Area Power Administration received a $300,000 federal grant to install residential solar systems in cooperation with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and Sandia National Laboratories. The tribe has tried photovoltaic systems before on the 26,000-square-mile reservation, but ownership and maintenance responsibilities were never spelled out, says WAPA manager Brian Parry. Now, the Navajo utility plans to own and maintain the photovoltaic panels and batteries, while storing equipment in a separate shed at each dwelling. Navajo project coordinator Jimmie Daniels says the solar project will save the utility money since line extensions to rural customers can cost up to $100,000. Solar hookups run around $3,000. In addition, Daniels says, the plan gives Navajos a way to continue their traditional rural way of life and "know what quiet means." For information, call Jimmie Daniels at 602/729-5721 or Brian Parry at 801/524-5067.