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San Carlos Apache Tribe Set to Break Ground on New Solar Project

March 13, 2014 - 1:05pm


The San Carlos Apache Tribe is making use of its extensive solar resources to power tribal facilities, including this 10-kilowatt (kW) solar PV system, which generates energy to run the tribal radio tower. Photo from San Carlos Apache Tribe, NREL 29202

The San Carlos Apache Tribe is making use of its extensive solar resources to power tribal facilities, including this 10-kilowatt (kW) solar PV system, which generates energy to run the tribal radio tower. Photo from San Carlos Apache Tribe, NREL 29202

Recognizing that renewable energy projects can offer both economic and environmental benefits, many Tribes are developing energy plans that include renewable energy as a way to link these important benefits. The San Carlos Apache Tribe, located approximately 90 miles east of Phoenix, is dedicated to a vision that links these benefits, which also support the Tribe's goal of energy self-sufficiency and commitment to a better environment.

This spring, the San Carlos Apache Tribe is planning to break ground on a new tribally financed and owned 1.1-megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic (PV) array. The PV system will provide power to tribal enterprises and is one of several projects the Tribe has undertaken to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Although the Tribe knew the type and size of renewable technology it wanted to pursue based on a previous energy feasibility analysis completed through a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant, tribal leaders and staff needed assistance with moving the project toward financing and construction. Through the DOE Office of Indian Energy's Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) Program, San Carlos competed for and received technical support that included, among other activities, third-party review of estimates and independent financial modeling of the project.

START experts from the DOE Office of Indian Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory worked closely with the Tribe to help analyze and explore solar PV opportunities and identify system options, based on the current marketplace, to optimally support a commercially viable project and mitigate the risk to the Tribe or tribal enterprises. The START analysis and recommendations were key components that supported the tribal leadership decision- making process to approve the proposal to finance the project with tribal funds.

"The unbiased expertise provided through START helps Tribes weigh all the available options and focus on those that best support their goals for energy security and self- sufficiency with clean energy," said DOE Office of Indian Energy Director Tracey A. LeBeau. "We established START to invest resources in those tribal communities that have made the commitments necessary to build a cleaner, more secure energy future, but need targeted expertise to address their specific priorities. It was clear from the onset that San Carlos had that commitment."

San Carlos will own the system and sell the power to the Apache Gold Convention Center & Resort through a power purchase agreement. The Tribe will also receive production incentives from its current utility because the project is helping meet Arizona's renewable portfolio standard. Eventually, the Tribe will assume responsibility for operating and maintaining the equipment, creating jobs for tribal members.

"This solar project represents a major first step of the San Carlos Apache Tribe to become more energy independent through the development of renewable energy on the reservation," said tribal Councilman Wendsler Nosie Sr.

This project builds upon the Tribe's existing renewable energy projects, including a 10-kW solar PV system that powers the tribal radio station and twelve 3-kW solar PV systems used to power a small subdivision of 12 tribal homes.

"We are growing into solar," said Ken Duncan Jr., who oversees the project and serves as project manager for San Carlos Apache Telecommunications Utility, Inc. "The START assistance helped us build upon our current knowledge about renewable energy projects so that we can feel more confident about pursuing future projects, including commercial-scale solar."

Duncan presented what he's learned about working on renewable energy projects to tribal attendees at the DOE Office of Indian Energy's renewable energy development and finance workshop held in September 2013.

"Bringing project stakeholders in early in the development process and maintaining communication is key to a successful project," he explained. "Communicating project expectations helps ensure the project is consistent with the Tribe's vision and tribal values."

San Carlos Apache is one of 10 Tribes receiving technical assistance through the 2013 START Program. Learn more at

For more news on actions to accelerate energy development and address climate change in Indian Country, read the full Spring/Summer 2014 issue of the DOE Office of Indian Energy newsletter, Indian Energy Beat.