Energy sovereignty and economic opportunity in U.S. Tribal Communities
GRID Alternatives’ National Tribal Program has worked since 2010 to help tribal communities across the United States achieve their renewable energy goals. Using a community-centric approach, we partner with Tribes to identify, develop, finance and implement solar power projects that meet community needs, including education, hands-on training, and energy cost reductions for tribal members.
Tribes have a long history of energy exploitation, particularly with extractive industries. Locally sited and controlled renewable energy offers Tribes the opportunity take control of their energy resources, keep local dollars in the community, and reap the long-term environmental and economic benefits of their investment. GRID combines training with project development and strategic support to help tribal governments achieve their vision.
GRID works with tribes to install solar electric systems for tribal members and community facilities. These projects can range from single rooftop solar installations to large-scale projects that meet the energy needs of the whole community. In addition to providing a source of clean, local, renewable energy, these projects typically reduce energy bills for households by 75-90%, savings that can be re-invested in the community.
Education and training:
Every GRID Alternatives project is an opportunity for tribal members to learn about solar installation and related energy issues. GRID partners with tribal colleges and workforce development programs to provide students with hands-on solar training and connections to local solar companies; offers workshops and energy efficiency education to tribal members; and works with k-12 schools to introduce students to renewable energy. GRID’s SolarCorps program also offers year-long paid fellowship opportunities.
Positioned for Success
GRID Alternatives brings together all of the elements for successful solar projects in tribal communities, including:
- 9 regional offices across the U.S.
- Dedicated Tribal Program staff
- Commercial and residential expertise
- Extensive experience working with tribes
- Established relationships with foundations, corporate philanthropists, and government agencies that provide funding for solar projects
Solar Project Financing
Funding for solar projects on tribal lands has largely come from government sources such as state and federal grants and incentives that are limited in scope and rarely cover full project costs. Private philanthropy can both help fill funding gaps to bring projects to fruition and catalyze new opportunities for tribes to innovate around their energy needs. GRID works with tribes to identify and win funding from every available source and maximize their long-term return on investment. Opportunities include:
- Short-term, project-specific funding including roofing issues and project costs
- Longer-term funding to support larger scale solar deployment in Tribal communities
- Incorporating solar into existing funding opportunities for related programs, including workforce development and energy efficiency.
Our work in action
Community resiliancy for Chemehuevi
In 2013, GRID Alternatives partnered with the Chemehuevi Tribe near Lake Havasu, California in a pilot project to install solar for qualifying families through California’s low-income solar program. GRID worked with the tribe to incorporate hands-on solar training for participants in the tribe’s workforce development program.The project was a success, and the partners worked together to win gap funding from the Department of Energy and other funders to continue it. Then in 2016, the tribe won a grant from the California Energy Commission for a 90kW carport microgrid to power its community center and provide emergency back-up during frequent outages. The project, a partnership with the University of California Riverside, was installed by GRID Alternatives and two local trainees.
GRID’s SolarCorps program also yields life-changing impacts on individuals from tribal communities. Wyatt Atkinson, a Navy veteran and Assiniboine and Sioux tribal member who recently completed a year as a SolarCorps with GRID, told us: “When I found out about GRID’s SolarCorps Fellowships, it was like the universe came into alignment and placed a stepping stone to my dream right in front of me: the chance for a meaningful job after college that would give me the skills I would need to help make my reservation energy independent.” SolarCorps Fellowships are at the heart of our efforts to develop Native American solar installers, designers and project managers. The program has enabled ten members from six different reservations across the United States to spend a year installing solar. Some, like Wyatt, have been promoted to Solar Installation Supervisors, leading the installation crews on Tribal installs. “One of GRID’s main missions is developing a workforce,” said Wyatt. “If we want energy sovereignty on tribal lands, it needs to be tribal members that are spearheading that workforce, creating our own companies, creating our own jobs.”