The California National Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) has partnered with Wirsol Solar, which joined the group as an associate member recently. The company is working with Native American gaming facilities in California to see how solar power can help reduce the cost of energy for these gaming facilities and rural reservations that aren’t served by the conventional electric grid.
In areas not serviced by the conventional grid, rural areas like some Native American reservations must use expensive alternatives like diesel generators to provide power. Given that many reservations also remain poor, it makes it harder for members to afford electricity. In addition, at this point solar is cheaper—and cleaner—than using diesel generators. However, some reservations have large tracts of land that may not be being used and have no tribal significance. In such cases like the Moapa Band of Paiutes, there may be an opportunity for utility-scale solar. The Moapa Band of Paiutes are building a 250 megawatt PV array on their lands and will sell the power produced to California.
"Solar energy can assist tribes in overcoming many of the challenges to growth both economically and environmentally," said Peter Vogel, vice president of Wirsol Solar. "With solar, technology has finally found an answer to power rural development from commercial operations to community-residential projects and infrastructure maintenance.”
“Offering cutting edge information to our industry through programs and people that provide a competitive advantage is one of the priorities of our organization,” said Lee Acebedo, executive director of CNIGA. “Our solar connection through Wirsol…has the bonus of tailoring rural energy solutions to tribal government and residential needs from powering wells to substituting diesel power with clean solar photovoltaic.”
“Reducing costs associated with tribally-owned casinos means more revenues can be spent on building strong tribal governments, which is what gaming in California is all about,” Acebedo asserted. Gaming on tribal lands has been the only source of income for some reservations, particularly those far from commercial corridors, which makes developing and creating businesses difficult. “Having the exclusive right to engage in Las Vegas-style gambling brought markets to our doorsteps. Locations that would be too remote to compete with other types of businesses,” Acebedo said.
Installing solar electricity in such locations could make it easier to spur other economic development on tribal lands. However, since reservations don’t already have thriving businesses, finding access to capital can be more difficult than for established businesses.
Wirsol’s Vogel said that it specializes in designing systems for unique solutions and that has installed more than 7,000 solar systems over the past decade. In addition, Wirsol has developed specialties in project financing. “Funding solar projects is an obstacle and that’s why Wirsol has an entire department dedicated financial specialists to handle project financing,” Vogel said.