Environment | National

Lakota Country Times: Rosebud Sioux Tribe brings in solar power

Solar panels being installed on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. Photo by GRID Alternatives

Rosebud Adds Solar Energy Through DOE Grant
By Vi Waln
Lakota Country Times Correspondent

ROSEBUD – The Rosebud Sioux Tribe recently added solar energy through a partnership with nonprofit GRID Alternatives and a $263,000 cost-shared grant under a U.S. Department of Energy initiative to deploy clean energy in tribal communities.

GRID Alternatives is a non-profit corporation which has partnered with over 30 tribes since 2010 to install solar electric systems for more than 425 tribal families. These systems work to provide energy savings, as well as employment opportunities to tribal communities.

According to a press release from Tim Willink of GRID Alternatives, 7 homes on the Rosebud received 5.83-kilowatt rooftop solar installations recently. There will be 3 more installed within a few months. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s Utility Commission and Sicangu Wicoti Awayankapi (SWA) led installations with GRID Alternatives staff and Sinte Gleska University (SGU) trainees.

“We are one of the poorest populations in the nation and energy issues are part of this problem,” said Ken Haukaas, RST Utility commissioner. “But energy can also be part of the solution. As a tribe we must strive to be energy independent.”

Rosebud tribal citizens can pay up to one-third their annual income on utilities. The tribe does rely on federal funds to help pay some electricity bills during the winter.

“Our people have a hard time paying their electricity bills,” said Haukaas. “Being shut off in the middle of winter is not a good thing.”

GRID Alternatives has installed 75 solar systems on reservations in South Dakota, California, Montana and New Mexico. Source: Tribal Impact Map / GRID Alternatives

The tribe has given away over $2 million in energy assistance over the past 3 years, in addition to $950,000 in annual federal LIHEAP funding.

The new solar arrays will offset at least 40 percent of each family’s power usage, saving the tribe $200,000 in lifetime energy costs. This will help keep more funds on the reservation. GRID Alternatives also helped tribal citizens install solar devices in 2015.

The installations help the tribe’s strategic energy plan, which includes developing renewable energy on the reservation. The tribe is establishing its own utility, the Rosebud Energy Services Company. A renewable energy curriculum is being planned at SGU and is tentatively targeted to start next year. The installations will also create economic opportunity for tribal citizens, who face unemployment rates as high as 83 percent with up to 3 quarters of the employed population living below the poverty line.

Students from SGU’s building trades program participated in the installations, gaining workforce training to help them access solar jobs after graduation. America’s solar industry is growing 20 percent a year, 13 percent faster than the overall economy, offering average wages of $20-$24 per hour, according to the 2015 Solar Jobs Census.

“It was a new opportunity for our students to learn about solar energy,” said Mike Schmidt, SGU building trades instructor. “The training was a great experience for our students being on an actual jobsite. I would like to see more systems go up on the Reservation.”

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SWA employees participated in the installation alongside the SGU students and learned how to install rooftop solar panels, a first step in building renewable energy experience and jobs within the tribe and adding awareness to help solve its energy challenges.

“We would love to continue this work,” said Archie Brown of SWA. “I could see SWA developing our own crew for future installations, it would be beneficial to the tribe and we could save money on utility bills.”

(Vi Waln is an enrolled citizen of the Sicangu Lakota Nation and is a nationally published journalist.)

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