Nonprofit, Feds Partner To Provide Solar On U.S. Tribal Lands

Nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives has begun work on 92 solar installations in six tribal communities in California, Montana and South Dakota using over $1 million in cost-shared grants from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to the tribes.

The grants are part of an initiative announced by the DOE in March to deploy clean energy and energy-efficiency projects across 24 tribal communities. GRID Alternatives says these 92 solar installations build on the success of the nonprofit’s two-week Tribal Solarthon in 2015, which added solar power systems and workforce development to tribal communities in California, New York, Arizona, and South Dakota. GRID Alternatives launched its national tribal program in 2014 with the long-term goal of making solar power and job training accessible to tribal communities throughout the U.S.

The first of these projects to get under way is a collaboration with the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Utility Commission and Housing Authority in Rosebud, S.D. Ten low-income families on the Rosebud Reservation will receive solar electric systems expected to offset 40% or more of their electricity usage and save the tribe a combined $200,000 in lifetime energy costs. GRID Alternatives says students from local Sinte Gleska University are helping install the systems and gaining hands-on experience they can use to access solar jobs after they graduate.

“We are one of the poorest populations in the nation, and energy issues are a part of this problem,” said Ken Haukaas, a commissioner for the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Utility Commission who helped the tribe develop its strategic energy plan. “But energy can also be part of the solution. As a tribe, we must strive to be energy independent.”

According to GRID Alternatives, the 92 solar installations will total 394 kW. The other projects scheduled for later this year include the following:

Bishop Paiute Tribe (Bishop, Calif.) – The tribe will install a total of 120 kW of solar on 34 single-family, low-income homes, saving homeowners about $1.29 million over the life of the systems and moving toward the tribe’s vision of installing solar energy systems on all reservation buildings where technically feasible. Last year, also with a DOE cost0shared grant, the tribe and GRID installed 58 kW of solar electric systems on 22 homes.

Chippewa Cree Tribe (Box Elder, Mont.) – The Tribe will install a total of 21 kW on three duplexes (six units) on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, offsetting approximately 27.3% of residents’ current aggregate annual electricity usage and reducing the 22.5% of gross income currently spent on electricity.

San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians (Valley Center, Pauma Valley, and Santa Ysabel, Calif.) – The band will deploy clean energy systems for the partners of the San Diego Tribal Energy Collaborative, which include San Pasqual, La Jolla, and Mesa Grande reservations. The collaborative will install 42 solar systems with at least 170 kW total installed capacity on 40 qualified existing low-income, single-family homes and two community buildings, reducing the energy purchased by families at least 50%.

“Solar empowers our tribal communities to reach their clean energy goals – in some cases, creating clean energy access for the first time – while expanding utility cost savings and job training,” said Tim Willink, director of tribal programs for GRID Alternatives. “Our model has worked for a variety of tribal communities, and these federal grants will bring solar power to even more families.”


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