DOE to Invest More Than $5M in Tribal Energy Infrastructure Projects

Grand Canyon West is the primary economic engine that supports the Hualapai Tribe, attracting more than one million tourists annually as the home of the world-famous Grand Canyon Skywalk (pictured). The Tribe has been awarded a DOE grant to improve the resilience of the electrical generation system at Grand Canyon West. (Courtesy Grand Canyon Skywalk/Facebook)

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will be providing more than $5 million in funding for nine Tribal energy infrastructure projects. This funding through the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs will help Native American and Alaska Native communities harness their vast undeveloped energy resources to reduce or stabilize energy costs, as well as increase energy security and resilience.

As part of a competitive funding opportunity, some $5 million will be cost-shared by Tribal communities, bringing the value of these Tribal energy projects to over $10 million.

“The selected projects are consistent with the principles of Tribal sovereignty and self-determination, with a fuel- and technology- neutral energy strategy that recognizes the breadth of energy resources on Tribal lands, and each Tribe’s right to use them as they see fit,” said Office of Indian Energy Director Kevin R. Frost. “Combined, these projects add up to over 3.7 megawatts of installed generation that will power over 180 Tribal buildings, with combined lifetime savings of over $24 million — significant investments that will yield tangible results to improve the quality of life for these communities.”

These grants allow the DOE Office of Indian Energy to continue its efforts to accelerate the deployment of energy infrastructure on Tribal lands. Between 2010 and 2019, the Office invested close to $85 million in more than 180 Tribal energy projects implemented across the contiguous 48 states and Alaska. These projects are valued at over $180 million. For a map and summaries of all the projects, visit the DOE’s Office of Indian Energy website.

The projects selected for DOE awards (and the total amount awarded) are as follows: 

Bishop Paiute Tribe, Bishop, California — $332,214

The Bishop Paiute Tribe will install 19 grid-tied, net-metered rooftop solar electric systems on owner-occupied, single-family homes of low-income families on the Bishop Paiute Reservation. In total, the system will produce 67 kilowatts (kW) of photovoltaic (PV) energy, displacing at least 30%–75% of the 19 homes’ total electricity use. This will result in a combined system lifetime electricity cost savings for homeowners of approximately $500,000 over the 20-year life of the system. The project will also provide Tribal members with intensive hands-on solar installation training and paid entry-level apprentice training.

Blackfeet Community College, Browning, Montana — $132,100 

Blackfeet Community College (BCC) will install 53 kW of solar PV on four buildings on the BCC campus, including the Red Fox-Business Division, Little Star Blackfeet Child Care, Medicine Shield Higher Education Fitness Center, and the Muskrat Lodge Media Center. These systems will displace about 65% of the electricity used in the four buildings and save an estimated $5,629 annually or approximately $168,870 over the 30-year life of the systems.

Hualapai Indian Tribe, Peach Springs, Arizona — $2,700,000

Grand Canyon West (GCW) is the primary economic engine that supports the Hualapai Tribe, attracting over 1 million tourists annually as the home of the world-famous Grand Canyon Skywalk. The goal of the project is to improve the resilience of the non-grid-connected electrical generation system at GCW to withstand short-term disruptions and rising energy costs by installing a 993-kW solar PV and 750-kW/1500-kW battery storage system. The system will be capable of providing 50% of the annual energy needed at GCW to supplement the existing diesel generators, saving approximately $463,339 per year and an estimated $11,583,475 over the 25-year life of the system.

Native Village of Tyonek, Tyonek, Alaska — $116,034

The Native Village of Tyonek will install multiple energy efficiency measures on two buildings: the Tyonek Native Corporation Satellite Office and the Tribal Center. The project is estimated to reduce the energy use of the Tyonek Native Corporation Satellite Office by 21% and the Tribal Center by 18%. By reducing fuel oil use by 798 gallons and electricity use by 9,809 kW-hours annually, the project is estimated to save $5,359 each year.

Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Housing, Pine Ridge, South Dakota — $201,663

Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Housing (OSLH) will install solar PV systems to support six Tribal facilities on the Pine Ridge Reservation for a total installed capacity of 54.5 kW. The systems are projected to save $8,226 annually and $380,344 over the 30-year life of the project. The Oglala Omaste 2020 Project integrates into the long-term energy goals of OSLH and the Oglala Sioux Tribe to provide Tribal members with energy savings and reduce Tribal utility bills.

Rincon San Luiseno Band of Mission Indians, Valley Center, California — $2,002,585

The Rincon San Luiseno Band of Mission Indians will install a microgrid that integrates 290 kW of new solar PV capacity together with 140 kW / 560 kW-hours of new battery storage capacity to displace grid-delivered power and maintain resilient energy service. The system also will integrate 150 kW of existing diesel-fueled standby generation to support additional resilience. This microgrid project will provide resilient energy for an essential Tribal facility that includes, among other functions, emergency public shelter, emergency operations management, police, communications, and electric vehicle charging systems that support the entire Reservation. In addition to powering microgrid operations, the 290 kW of new PV capacity is expected to generate 486.4 MWh of electricity in the first year, and operated together with battery storage, to reduce energy costs by $2,810,196 over the 25-year system lifetime.

San Xavier District of Tohono O’odham Nation, Tucson, Arizona — $1,026,813

The San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation will develop grid-tied PV systems for two Tribal buildings: the San Xavier District Administration Building and Education Center. For the Administration Building, a 182-kW solar PV system is projected to produce 310,954 kWh/year and displace approximately 80% of the energy use of the building. For the Education Center, a 73.5-kW solar PV system is projected to produce 130,564 kWh/year and displace approximately 95% of the energy use of the building. The District anticipates saving $97,496 in the first year of operation and more than $2,571,500 over the 25-year life of the systems.

Spokane Indian Housing Authority, Wellpinit, Washington — $3,372,632

This project will install 140 solar PV systems (70 5-kW roof-mounted and 70 9-kW ground-mounted) totaling 980 kW on Tribal members’ homes on the Spokane Indian Reservation. On average, the project will reduce participating Tribal members’ utility bills by approximately $540 to $1,093.50 during the first year, saving an estimated total of $5,366,080 over the anticipated 35-year life of the systems.

Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Towaoc, Colorado — $491,319

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe (UMUT) White Mesa Solar Initiative aims to reduce the Tribe’s dependence on outside energy sources to support UMUT Tribal sovereignty and realize cost savings through Tribally owned solar energy systems. The project will deploy 144 kW of solar PV on seven Tribal facilities on the White Mesa, UT, portion of the UMUT homeland. The project will enable the Tribe to capture and utilize more than 95% of its government’s energy needs on this portion of the UMUT Reservation, saving an estimated $22,565 per year and $794,000 over the 30-year lifetime of the systems.