The 567 federally recognized American Indian Tribes and Alaska Natives in the United States have many different languages and customs, but one thing they all share is a deep reverence for the natural world. It makes sense, then, that many tribes are choosing to go solar to help reduce their carbon footprints, save money on electric bills and create revenue on reservations.
According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, of the 326 American Indian reservations, “more than 150 have the resource capacity needed to sustain a 1- to 25-MW renewable and/or natural gas power generation facility.” The Department of Energy and Mineral Development has a grant program for tribes to access government funds for solar development, and its staff can help tribes through the process of going solar.
GRID Alternatives also assists tribes identify funding sources for solar. In addition to financing projects, the organization launched a tribal program in 2014, where it works with tribes to install solar and provide training to students at tribal colleges throughout the country.
Here are eight tribes that have added solar to their portfolios.
Window Rock, Arizona
The Navajo Tribe has operated the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station since the 1970s, but the plant will soon close in 2019 due to competition from falling natural gas costs.
To help balance the socioeconomic impacts of the closure, Navajo President Russell Begaye is pivoting to renewables. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority now has a 27.5-MW solar farm on 300 acres in a Navajo community south of Monument Valley, Arizona, according to the Associated Press. AP reports the solar farm “delivers energy across the reservation and into Arizona, California, New Mexico and Utah.” First Solar operates the project in Tempe, Arizona, but according to AP, there are plans to bring the controls in-house.
SunVest Solar contracted Current Electric to build over 600 kW of solar on about 50 homes and 19 commercial sites for the Sokaogon Chippewa Community in Wisconsin. SunVest funded the project through a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Part of the mission included hiring members of the tribe to help work on the installation.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe added a solar carport along with storage to virtually eliminate the annual electricity bill for the tribe’s community center. The center includes indoor basketball courts and an outdoor swimming pool. JLM Energy provided the solar+storage solution and also financed the project.
Havasu Lake, California
EnSync Energy added a DER system to the Chemehuevi Tribe’s community center that includes a 90-kW solar array and energy storage totaling 125 kWh. The University of California Riverside’s Southern California Research Initiative for Solar Energy (SC-RISE) obtained state funding to build the system for the tribe that demonstrates DERs and grid load management, while addressing energy resiliency and reliability issues at the community center.
The Southern Ute Tribe received a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Energy and funded $1.5 million itself to build a 1.3-MW ground-mount solar array on 10 acres of the tribe’s land. The tribe contracted Namaste Solar to design and build the project that will help to offset the energy usage of 10 tribal buildings.
The Washoe Tribe contracted nonprofit Black Rock Solar to build seven ground-mount solar arrays at community centers on the tribe’s land. The tribe financed the project that will offset energy costs for about 50 homes with help from a $470,000 grant from the Department of Energy and NVEnergy rebates.
Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
Cass Lake, Minnesota
The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) received a grant from the McKnight Foundation and the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources to build a 200-kW community solar array for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Tribe. The solar will help offset energy costs for about 100 families. The Initiative Foundation also helped RREAL fund three tribal college students’ solar installation training and certification. The students then put their training into action and helped with the installation.
Moapa Band of Paiutes
The Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project was the first utility-scale solar project on tribal land. First Solar constructed and operates the 250-MW plant that’s capable of generating enough energy to power about 111,000 homes. The tribe has a 25-year PPA with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to bring clean energy to Los Angeles residents. The tribe will benefit from lease revenues over the lifetime of the project and about 115 construction jobs for tribal members and other Native Americans.