In a single day last week I saw the stacks of the San Juan Generating Station and the Four Corners Power Plant belching steam and coal smoke into the atmosphere above New Mexico, and then met a Navajo family who live below a power line fed below those plants, but have no access to it.
The Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources’ Energy Country Institute flew with EcoFlight over the coal-fired power plants (San Juan Generating Station is operated by PNM, New Mexico’s largest energy provider and the Four Corners plaant is operated by the Arizona Public Service Company) near Farmington, New Mexico. Later that day we met with energy company representatives and environmentalists, and then sought out the Johnson family in the backcountry of New Mexico.
To be fair, Monica Johnson and her husband, Nathan, chose to build their house out in the countryside, far from town and distant from the grid, and they say they wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. They relish their life amid the red, sandstone mesas of the New Mexico highlands, and the connection with nature it provides. That’s common in Navajo culture. Since building their house, Monica, Nathan, and their daughters, Maria, 9, and Erika, 6, have visited family to shower and carried water from relatives back to their house, as they didn’t have electricity to pump from a well. But recently their situation has improved. The solar panel and single wind turbine they purchased earlier this year now allow them, for the first time, to have a refrigerator and a television. It often takes them more than one sitting to get through a movie, as they often run out of juice before the film ends, but they don’t have to worry about their food spoiling anymore.
In a few months, the Johnsons hope to be connected to the grid, which, for now, passes high above their house in a high-voltage line. But, until then, having just a bit of electricity keeps them a little better fed and bit more tightly connected to the rest of the world.