The U.S. Department of Energy will help three Native American tribes go solar this year through its Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) program. Under the DOE's program, tribes in Arizona, California and Colorado will receive assistance to go solar.
The effort is part of a larger undertaking to bring renewable energy technologies to tribes, which often live in some of the poorest conditions in the U.S. and may lack access to grid-supplied electricity. Under the program, the DOE and national laboratory experts work with the tribes to make sure they get the best outcome from a renewable energy project. In fact, in announcing the three solar projects, the DOE also announced two other, biomass-based projects that will it help tribes with. It will help the Chugachmiut Regional Corporation in Port Graham, Alaska, develop a biomass plant and it will help the Ho-Chunk Nation of Black River Falls, WI, develop a 1 megawatt to 2 megawatt biomass waste-to-energy project.
“The Energy Department’s START program helps Native American and Alaska Native communities enhance their energy security and create job opportunities in the clean energy economy,” said Tracey LeBeau, director of Energy Department’s Office of Indian Energy. “Building upon the achievements and lessons learned from the program’s first round, our new technical assistance awards for clean energy projects will help more tribal communities across the country deploy sustainable energy resources and increase local generation capacity.”
In Arizona, the San Carlos Apache Tribe is planning to install a 1 megawatt PV array on tribal lands also occupied by its casino. The preliminary feasibility study for the project is already completed for the grid-tied project, and the Apache tribe is reviewing their financing options. The DOE will help the tribe evaluate project ownership options as well as potential partnership arrangements and which financing options are most suitable.
The Pinoleville Pomo Nation in Ukiah, Calif., plans to install a 3 megawatt solar project that will power the tribe’s administrative buildings and a 24-acre subdivision on its land. “The tribe has already completed technical and engineering analyses, estimated monthly energy production and developed a draft Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the local utility,” the DOE revealed. Next, the department will review the engineering and economic analyses, explore financing options and help present the results of its analysis to the tribal staff and council.
Colorado’s Southern Ute Indian Tribe of Ignacio, Colo., is also implementing a PV installation. The installation will use single-axis trackers to provide as much electricity as possible. The array will power tribal facilities and residences. For this project, the DOE is providing technical assistance for the scoping process, interconnection procedures and identifying potential markets for energy sales.
This is not the first time tribes are turning to solar for their energy needs. In fact, one tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes in Nevada is already approved by the Department of the Interior to build 350 megawatts of solar projects on its tribal lands, which will send energy back to the grid through a PPA that benefits the tribe. At this point, however, it’s still in the planning stages.