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Climate Change Contacts

Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Clean Energy and Climate Change: Tribes

Tribal Renewable Energy Projects

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Increasing the use of renewable energy is one of the most effective ways to quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For tribes, especially those that are rural and isolated, it can also be a cost effective way to provide power to residents of the reservation with minimal impacts to the environment. Other tribes are using their rich solar and wind resources to spur economic development. This page provides information about several tribes in Region 9 that have successfully collaborated with an array of partners to develop renewable energy.

Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians Uses Solar to Save Energy

In March 2010, the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians and Harrah’s Rincon Casino & Resort completed a one megawatt solar plant that provides enough electricity to power approximately 90 percent of the tribe’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) needs at the Harrah’s Rincon Casino & Resort in Valley Center, California, or enough energy to power 2,200 homes. The 3,936-panel solar field, manufactured and installed by Suntech, is offsetting almost a quarter of the casino's total energy consumption.

rincon band of luiseno indians solar plant
Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians Solar Plant

In addition to the solar array, the project included retrofitting the casino's original HVAC system with a chilled water system with heat recovery capability, saving an estimated 3.3 million kilowatt-hours per year. The recovered heat is then used to heat the water used in the hotel’s 662 rooms.

The project was a three and a half year collaboration between the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians, Harrah's Rincon Casino & Resort, the California Center for Sustainable Energy, Suntech, Trane and San Diego Gas & Electric, and cost over $11.5 million. The current project forecast is take advantage of $4.2 million in California Solar Initiative (CSI) rebates over five years, based on production.

The solar plant and HVAC retrofit are just two of the many green projects that Harrah's Rincon Casino & Resort has implemented since starting their conservation and sustainability program in 2008. Some other efforts include light fixture retrofits, a special “green” parking lot for employees who carpool or drive hybrid vehicles, automatic computer “power downs” after 10 minutes of non-use, recycling and food waste composting, and a tree and shrub planting program.

For more information on Harrah’s Rincon solar project and other energy conservation efforts, please contact Brendan O’Kane (bo’kane@rincon.harrahs.com)

Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Solar Project

In March 2010 the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation completed installation of their 12 kilowatt demonstration photovoltaic (PV) solar project. The system is composed of 54 fixed solar panels installed on the roof of HQ2, a tribal government building. The project was funded with Clean Air Act section 103 tribal grant funds, and a rebate from the Salt River Project, the local utility.

Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Solar Project
Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation Solar Project

Over its lifetime, the project is expected to generate more than 25 megawatt hours annually, or 15-20 percent of the building's power. However, in the first four months of operation, the panels exceeded expectations and provided more than 23 percent of the building’s power needs, offset 16,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, and saved the tribe $800 in electric costs.

Dan Catlin, the tribe’s Air Quality Specialist, spearheaded this project and worked with S3 Energy to install the system. The system includes an online monitoring and diagnostic program which calculates energy usage and trouble shoots problems, ensuring that the system is virtually maintenance-free. The project cost approximately $54,000, and took 15 – 18 months to complete, with the bulk of the time spent on getting siting and system specification approvals.

Because of the success of this demonstration project, the tribe is looking into other larger renewable energy and energy saving projects like installing PV solar panels on parking structures, and purchasing solar water heating units for tribal enterprises. If implemented, these new projects could help qualify the buildings for LEED certification.

For more information, please contact Dan Catlin (dcatlin@ftmcdowell.org).

Ramona Band of Cahuilla Goes “Off the Grid”

ramona band yurts
Ramona Band of Cahuilla Indians of the Coachella Valley's solar-powered yurts

The Ramona Band of Cahuilla  Exiting EPA (disclaimer) is one of the first tribes in the nation to be "off the grid" and utilize renewable energy to power its homes, offices, and other buildings on the reservation. This small, remote, and rural southern California tribe has developed, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, a wind and solar system that provides 90% of its energy needs. Tribal members have also been trained to provide the long-term maintenance and operation of the system. 

In addition, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Forest Service have supported the development of the tribe's Eco-tourism Project, which is also powered by renewable energy technologies. The Ramona Band will utilize the Eco-tourism Project to demonstrate to others how renewable energy systems eliminate the environmental impacts that conventional power systems and electric power lines have on sensitive resources. The eco-tourism facility will offer renewable energy education as well as cultural and educational programs that honor Cahilla traditions.  

Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians Install 1 Megawatt Solar Power

augustine band solar panels
Augustine Band of Cahuilla's solar system

In an inspiring example of a successful renewable energy project developed in partnership with both the private and public sector, the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians of the Coachella Valley held a ribbon cutting ceremony in early 2009 for the first Bureau of Indian Affairs-approved photovoltaic renewable energy system on a California Indian reservation. The solar energy system will produce 1 megawatt of clean energy, enough to provide about 25% of the energy that the tribe had previously drawn from the Imperial Irrigation District. The solar facility was successfully developed in cooperation with a private renewable energy development company and financed by the tribe, a $2.6 million rebate from the Imperial Irrigation District, and funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. Exiting EPA (disclaimer) Technical assistance was also provided by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sandia National Labs.

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