Building a Sustainable Future through Solar with the Navajo Nation

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August 25, 2021
Darrick Lee

In the spring of 2021, GRID Alternatives completed three solar installations totaling 14.4 kW-DC with the support of All Points North Foundation and working with the Ojo Encino Chapter of the Navajo Nation.These installations benefited two families and the preschool in Ojo Encino, New Mexico and are estimated to save the families and Ojo Encino Chapter more than $55,000 in energy cost savings over the PV systems’ lifetime.

Ojo Encino is about a two-hour drive northwest of Albuquerque in a checkerboard region of the Navajo Nation. A checkerboard, in terms of land ownership, is where land is owned by two or more owners, resulting in a checkerboard pattern. Starting with the Dawes Act of 1887 plots of reservation land were assigned to Tribal members, sold to railroad companies for expansion, and individual non-native owners. Checkboarded land severely impedes on the Navajo Nation’s ability to ranch, expand utilities, or use their land for any economic purpose. Communities in the Navajo Nation’s checkerboard region have depended upon energy development related to coal-powered plants, uranium mining, and natural gas production. In communities like these, the economic opportunities of renewable energy are profound.

As part of the installations, GRID’s goal was to provide hands-on training to the students at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint, NM; however, due to COVID-19 restrictions, that wasn’t possible. Instead, Darrick Lee, Technical Instructor of Energy Systems at the university, participated as an installation trainee. Darrick traveled 65 miles daily to participate in the 3-day installations with the GRID team. In a follow-up interview with Darrick, he explained that he was able to incorporate the training and exercises he learned with GRID into his classroom at Navajo Tech to teach his students about solar systems, installation, and job skills for the solar industry.

Darrick explained that his long-term goal for the Energy Systems Program at Navajo Technical University is to build a solar systems training facility. “Then I can give my students the real experience of designing and creating roof or ground installations. “What GRID is doing is great and I will continue to support them 100%, as well as continue to refer my students to the GRID internship program,” said Darrick.

Since 2018, GRID Alternatives has partnered with the Ojo Encino Chapter of the Navajo Nation. Their partnership has resulted in 33 installations, totaling 80.72 kW-DC and saving families more than $322,000 over the systems’ lifetimes.

GRID Alternatives would like to thank All Points North Foundation for their commitment to environmental justice through renewable energy. Because of your generous support, GRID Alternatives can continue to put money back into families’ pockets, reducing the energy cost burden for housing providers and launching solar careers.