By Vida Volkert
Rita Capitan walked to the back of the Crownpoint Chapter House followed by a small crowd and noticed that the newly installed solar panel towering over the building was facing west.
“How could that be?” she said.
That morning, when Capitan, the vice president of the chapter, arrived to set up the building in preparation for the solar-panel ribbon cutting ceremony, the panel was facing east.
Like a flower, the panel seemed to have a life of its own, and certainly preferred to follow the sun around, she assumed correctly, with a smile.
Outside the chapter house, the ribbon was cut as planned May 22, followed by brief speeches and applause. Then, the building’s master-power switch was turned off. Minutes of silence, interrupted by random comments, passed before the electric meter started reading backward. The building was no longer consuming electricity from the local electric company.
Then, the solar meter started moving forward. Like the panels aligned to the power of the sun, the meter was moving forward, confirming that the chapter building was now being supplied by the sun.
“Could it be true?” Capitan wondered.
Her chapter house will no longer be powered by “dirty coal energy,” she said. There will be no more bills and no more contributions to coal mining in New Mexico, at least not from the Crownpoint Chapter. From now on, the Navajo sun father would run the show.
“The sun is obedient. It shines always,” said Taylor Selby, account executive for Positive Energy, a Santa Fe based company hired to install two solar panels at the chapter house.
Shelby told the audience that the technology the panels use is similar to that of the plant kingdom. “Without the sun, there wouldn’t be any life in the planet. In its simpler form … it’s a technology that absorbs sun energy.”
Capitan’s husband and former president of the chapter, Mitchell Capitan, noticed that in the Navajo language there is no word for energy. “We say the power that moves things.”
Capitan added that with this technology, nothing is burning on the planet, avoiding chemical waste and toxins being released in the atmosphere. “The sun is burning, but the energy is coming from a long distance.”
Mitchell Capitan attended the ceremony to support his wife’s and community members’ efforts to adopt renewable and clean sources of energy.
The couple has lost family members and friends to cancer and other illnesses they believe resulted from exposure to uranium radiation and coal mining.
“This is a pilot project,” Mitchell Capitan said. “Once it shows good savings it might go to another chapter.”
Anna Rondon, Navajo Nation Energy Economy Tribal Outreach Director, said a third of the Navajo Nation’s population lacks electricity.
“The number could be higher,” she said. “As a Nation we have to deter contaminants that are going to the atmosphere. So hopefully, this project is going to awaken interest in our ancient teachings. We want Hozhoo economy.”
Rondon explained that Hozhoo Iina means living in harmony. A Hozhoo economy promotes harmonious development.
Rita Capitan said that at least four families in Crownpoint still lack electricity. The chapter has funds to help them run power lines to their houses, but issues such as right of way are making it impossible. “They have been trying for 10 years,” she said.
She said to run a line to just one house less than a quarter mile away could cost as much as $30,000.
Mariel Nanasi, New Energy Economy’s executive director, said solar energy is the “perfect answer for people who live in rural areas. They don’t need right of way leases. They don’t have to have lines.”
Solar panels to supply the average house might cost about $20,000, she said.
“Once it’s paid, it’s free,” she said.
At about 3:45 p.m., the solar-power meter at the chapter house was reading 12 kilowatts an hour. In two hours, the panels had generated that much power to the chapter house, Selby said, adding that the local electric company charges about 17 cents per kilowatt.
“They (the chapter) just saved $2. Isn’t that cool?” he said.
Although $2 might not seem that much, in the long run it’s a huge deal that helps the planet, Nanasi said.
“Over a 25-year period, (the chapter might) conserve approximately 170,000 gallons of water not used in power plant steam turbines and eliminate approximately 600,000 pounds of carbon pollution that would have otherwise been released into the atmosphere by means of fossil fuel-based electricity generation,” Nanasi said.
The Crownpoint Chapter House’s new technology was funded by grants awarded to New Energy Economy and Positive Energy.
Why the Crownpoint Chapter?
“We had to start somewhere,” she said. “This is the political and social hub of the community. We want to expose the vision. We want to show that another way to secure energy is possible.”
Information from: Gallup Independent, http://www.gallupindependent.com