The U.S. Department of Energy and one of its national laboratories will work with the Navajo Nation to promote collaboration on critical technical, economic and educational initiatives, including projects that uses photovoltaics to provide electricity to Navajo homes at remote sites.
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico – The U.S. Department of Energy and one of its national laboratories will work with the Navajo Nation to promote collaboration on critical technical, economic and educational initiatives. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed today by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and Navajo Nation president Kelsey Begaye, along with Joan Woodard of the Sandia National Laboratories (SNL). “This agreement is the Department’s latest step toward building a stronger partnership with the Navajo Nation in which our science and technology can most benefit the Navajo people,” says Richardson. “Sandia’s scientists have worked closely with Navajo scientists and economic experts on several energy-related projects, including one that uses photovoltaics to provide electricity to Navajo homes at remote sites.” Solar photovoltaics convert the sun’s rays into electricity. The MOU cites several potential areas of collaboration and cooperation which includes promoting regional economic development and quality education; providing broad services from SNL and using the lab’s expertise and resources to address technical issues on Indian lands. The signing of the MOU follows a directive by Richardson to SNL and other DOE laboratories to create partnerships with tribes and pueblos. SNL employees met with Navajo leaders, including the group’s economic development officials, to outline terms. Three Navajo Nation legislative bodies (the economic development committee, natural resources committee and intergovernmental relations committee) approved the agreement. Earlier this year, SNL announced an initiative with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) to install 200 PV power systems on reservation with the assistance of engineers from the lab. The program is the largest of its type in the U.S. and will involve a $2 million purchase and installation of solar systems at private homes. Solar energy was used because the cost of stringing wire over parts of the reservation’s rural terrain was prohibitive, according to NTUA solar program manager Jimmie Daniels. “The only way for many of these people to have electricity is to provide each household its own photovoltaic unit.” Between 10,000 and 30,000 Navajos live without electricity in the reservation that spans New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The solar systems will bring power for the first time to many of these residents, allowing access to electric light so children can do homework and to radios, television, and computers to help reduce rural isolation. The current program follows a solar experiment conducted by SNL and the NTUA early last decade. DOE provided $300,000 to install 72 individual systems. Early PV systems on the Navajo Nation failed due to lack of maintenance, so this program will include a lease purchase agreement to allow NTUA to service the systems. After 15 years, the ownership and maintenance of the systems will be turned over to the customers. SNL also conducted courses for NTUA technicians, to show proper installation and maintenance techniques. SNL is operated for DOE by Lockheed Martin, and operates facilities in Albuquerque and Livermore, California.