On April 22, nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives joined the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Bishop Paiute Tribe at an Earth Day event marking the completion of 56 no-cost rooftop solar installations on tribal lands in California. GRID leveraged grants from the DOE and the California Public Utilities Commission’s Single-family Affordable Solar Housing (SASH) program to install the solar systems and provide workforce training to tribal members through two phases starting in 2015.
According to GRID, the 56 individual rooftop solar installations total 217 kW total power and are expected to save tribal members up to 90% off their typical utility bills and more than $2,000,000 over the system lifetimes. In addition, 18 tribal members received 725 hours of solar installation workforce training during the two phases of construction.
“Thanks to GRID and the DOE and participating tribal members, the Bishop Tribe has made steady progress toward their goals,” says Mervin Hess, tribal administrator of the Bishop Paiute Tribe, referencing the tribe’s goal to serve 200 homes – about half of the approximately 400 low-income homes – by 2020 with rooftop solar. “The savings from the installations are making a difference, especially for tribal members in the greatest need, and is a step toward become more self sufficient.”
“Our mission at the Office of Indian Energy is to maximize the development and deployment of energy solutions for the benefit of American Indians and Alaska Natives,” says Chris Deschene, director of the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs. “Through investments in projects like these, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with tribal governments working to identify and implement viable, innovative energy and infrastructure solutions that unlock the value of their indigenous energy resources, reduce energy costs, create jobs, and improve their quality of life.”
The Bishop Paiute Tribal installations are part of a larger tribal solar program led by GRID across 24 tribal communities in Arizona, California, Montana, New York and South Dakota. The program is funded by more than $1 million in cost-shared grants to the individual tribes from the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, which provides technical assistance, training and funding to tribes across the country.
“Solar power really helps out, means one less bill to worry about, and is a money saver that helps me take care of my family. With the money we save from solar, I’m planning to expand on our home and do improvements,” says Harlan Dewey, a member of the Bishop Paiute Tribe who had solar installed and received workforce training through the program. “I started training with GRID at the reservation’s first project and became one of the first tribal members to support the GRID program, and I still help out with installations. It makes me really good to help my people and to share the program with other tribal members.”
According to GRID, tribal communities face some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the U.S. The nonprofit solar installer 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 country. Since 2010, GRID has partnered with 40 Native American tribes and 400 Native American job trainees to install solar electric systems for nearly 500 tribal member families. GRID also partners with tribal colleges and departments to provide students with hands-on training to supplement their curriculum, and in 2016, five Bishop Paiute youths participated in residential installs as part of GRID’s Solar Futures educational program.
“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,” says Tim Willink, director of tribal programs for GRID. “Our model has worked for a variety of tribal communities, and these federal grants will bring solar power to even more families.”
GRID DOE, GRID Complete 56 California Tribal Solar Installations, by Joseph Bebon, Solar Industry, April 24, 2017.