Out of fire comes change

 

Last updated 6/3/2019 at 1:39pm

Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund

Loss of electricity in a record-breaking fire spurred the Spokane Tribe to pursue solar energy.

SPOKANE, Wash.-In 2016, the Cayuse Mountain Fire was Washington state's second-largest fire. Fire crews from the Colville Tribes and the Kalispel Tribe helped the Spokane Tribe fight the blaze, which jumped the Spokane River onto the reservation. Making the fire devastation even worse, water ran low and pumps stopped working when the electricity was cut off and homeowners couldn't defend their property. Crews couldn't get into active wildfire areas to replace burned power poles and downed lines. As a result 18,000 acres and 14 homes were destroyed, and about 50 people from the Spokane Indian Tribe were displaced.

The resulting lack of electricity strengthened the Spokane Tribe's determination to work towards energy independence and they began a solar initiative to foster resilience, autonomy and sustainability.

"The 2016 Cayuse Mountain Fire stimulated us to look at going solar because of the impact it had on the reservation," said Tim Horan, Executive Director of the Spokane Tribal Housing Authority.

The Tribe started an investment in 650 kilowatts of solar capacity, and, eventually, will bring in battery storage. The work is part of a multiyear effort to expand solar energy on the 159,000-acre reservation west of Spokane. When the project is complete, it will save the Tribe more than $2.8 million over 35 years, strengthen community resilience, create new economic opportunity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


"The Spokane Tribe of Indians is bringing together tribal leaders and project partners to celebrate the Children of the Sun Solar Initiative (COSSI). The Children of the Sun Solar Initiative puts us on a path to energy independence, climate resiliency and tribal power sovereignty-eventually, we could be self-sufficient," Horan said.

Solar installation is underway for 23 homes and 9 community buildings, including the Tribal Administrative Building, Spokane Tribe Senior Center and senior housing and the Spokane Tribal Fish Hatchery. GRID Alternatives, which uses a people-first model to make clean, affordable solar power and solar jobs accessible to low-income communities and communities of color, is providing hands-on solar installation training for Tribal employees and community members.

Winter heating on the reservation normally comes from electricity, propane or wood. Electricity produced from the sun's rays will flow into the grid, resulting in a credit on customer bills. Horan said after the tribe installed solar panels on six other housing units, one tenant saw her monthly electric bill drop from $242 to about $8 per month.


COSSI was awarded funding from the US Department of Energy and, in 2018, was the first project selected for funding from the Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund (TSAF). This is a tribal-led initiative launched with seed funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation that seeks to catalyze the growth of solar energy and expand solar job opportunities in tribal communities. Other partners include GRID Alternatives, SunVest and the Housing of Urban Development NW Office of Native American Programs.

While the lands, waters and other natural resources of Indigenous peoples hold cultural significance, they also play a principal role in ensuring the viability of these communities' economies and livelihoods. Tribal trust lands provide habitat for more than 525 species listed under the Endangered Species Act, and more than 13,000 miles of rivers and 997,000 lakes are located on federally recognized tribal lands.

Renewable energy projects like the Children of the Sun Solar Initiative are determined to be a link to help Indigenous and rural communities maintain cultural traditions while also promoting energy and community independence.

Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund

Loss of electricity in a record-breaking fire spurred the Spokane Tribe to pursue solar energy.

 
 

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