The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 aimed to erase energy access disparities across the US but left out Native American tribes throughout the country. Lack of energy access still plagues these communities today. According to the American Public Power Association, Native American communities account for 75 percent of non-electrified homes in the US.
This affects every aspect of life for these families. Without electricity, homes often lack running water, lighting, cooling, heating, and refrigeration. But a renewable energy group, co-founded by Native American women, is aiming to close the energy gap. Wahleah Johns is one of the cofounders of Native Renewables, the solar energy company whose goal is to provide renewable energy to every home in the Navajo Nation using off the grid solutions.
The organization employs Navajo tribal members, holds educational workshops on the benefits of renewable energy, promotes economic independence, and seeks to empower tribal members. With over 300 days of sunlight each year, solar is a logical solution to accessing reliable energy.
“A family can manage and own their power that doesn’t have to come from a utility or some other entity regulating it. They can actually be a homestead that can generate their own power and live in a way that is in line with our values as Native people,” said Johns.
The investment in solar eventually pays for itself, and families can even band together to create larger, communal installations that reduce overall costs. Renewable energy is of particular importance to the Navajo Nation which is already feeling the impacts of climate change. The Colorado River and the Rio Grande river no longer yield the same amount of water as they used to, and warmer weather has promoted the expansion of bark beetle populations which destroy pine forests.
The biggest barrier for families at the moment is cost, so the company is looking for mission-aligned impact investors to help get the company to scale. We at The Optimist Daily are big promoters of the power of microgrids. This initiative is a great solution for reliable green energy that also provides quality of life and economic benefits to the communities it serves.