Forest Lake in the dark due to electricity shutoff

TUBA CITY

The photovoltaic panels covering the roof of a Central Navajo chapter house were only less than a year into an expected 30-year life span when they failed recently during a nearly two-week utility service disconnection.

The photovoltaic, or PV, system fell through when Forest Lake Chapter’s utility services were disconnected from March 22 through April 4, according to Ella M. Benally, community service coordinator at the chapter.

A new 7-kilowatt PV system last summer was installed on the roof of the chapter house and a battery – in which solar energy is stored – was installed next to the chapter’s fuse box.
These amenities were made possible through the assistance of a number of nonprofits, including SolarCity’s GivePower Foundation and Empowered by Light.

Council Delegate Dwight Witherspoon (Black Mesa/Forest Lake/Hard Rock/Piñon/Whippoorwill) said some members of the Forest Lake Chapter had concerns as to why the PV system failed.
Engineers at Navajo Tribal Utility Authority looked at the design and learned that the PV system needs access to the grid to work, said Witherspoon.

“Most solar power systems are tied to the grid and therefore will not be active during a power outage for safety reasons,” SolarCity spokeswoman Molly Canales wrote in a statement to the Navajo Times on April 25. “Solar systems with battery backup systems, or systems that are not grid-tied, may remain on throughout a grid outage.”

Therefore, the PV system did not operate independently, added Witherspoon.

Forest Lake Chapter though is a customer of the grid. It is embedded and powered in it. But when NTUA shut off the chapter’s services for nonpayment, the chapter was in the dark and water haulers had to travel at least 20 miles to either Piñon Chapter or Peabody Western Coal Co. to get water.

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About Author

Krista Allen

Krista Allen is the Western Agency Bureau reporter for the Navajo Times. She covers the western half of the Navajo Nation, including Page, Tuba City, Kaibeto, Cameron, Tonalea and Shonto. She can be reached at kallen@navajotimes.com.