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Organization helps indigenous communities take control of their own resources: 'We had to figure out how to power ourselves'

Native Renewables plans to continue scaling its efforts across Navajo and Hopi lands.

Native Renewables plans to continue scaling its efforts across Navajo and Hopi lands.

Photo Credit: Honnold Foundation

Native Renewables is on a mission to empower Native American families to achieve energy independence by increasing access to affordable, off-grid solar power. This women-led organization is growing renewable energy capacity in communities that need it most.

Wahleah Johns, co-founder of Native Renewables, saw how many families within the Hopi and Diné (Navajo) nations lacked access to electricity despite having some of the best solar resources in the country. Many relied on dirty energy for light while waiting years to be connected to the grid.

"I realized that if nobody was going to provide power for these families, we had to figure out how to power ourselves using the sun," Johns said.

In 2016, she partnered with another Navajo woman, Suzanne Singer, to launch Native Renewables as a solution.

By deploying off-grid solar to homes without power, Native Renewables is tackling energy inequity while reducing reliance on dirty energy sources such as coal and oil. Solar provides these families with clean, reliable electricity for essentials including lighting, refrigeration, and charging phones.

Renewable energy also means cleaner air for these communities. Coal and gas pollution is linked to several health issues, including asthma, lung cancer, and respiratory infection, so shifting away from burning fuels in the home protects health. Plus, solar saves families money on energy costs, freeing up income for other necessities.

Burning coal, oil, and gas also releases planet-warming gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, which are the primary force behind our rapidly changing climate. Human-caused pollution is increasing temperatures around the globe and spurring more extreme weather events including wildfires, droughts, and floods

Native Renewables takes its impact even further by investing in workforce development. Its solar installations are done by local technicians who receive on-the-job training. This creates jobs, builds skills, and keeps money in the community.

So far, Native Renewables has installed off-grid solar systems in over a dozen homes. In 2021, it powered six houses, three of which were upgraded to replace non-working systems with new batteries. Eight tribal members have completed their paid training program.

Looking ahead, Native Renewables plans to continue scaling its efforts across Navajo and Hopi lands. A 2022 grant renewal from the Honnold Foundation is helping expand its workforce development program and solar installation capacity to bring energy access to even more families.

Supporting Native Renewables in its mission means joining the just transition to a clean energy future — one that empowers communities with the technology and skills for sustainable self-determination.

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