The DOE Office of Indian Energy and GRID Alternatives joined the Bishop Paiute Tribe at an Earth Day event to celebrate 56 completed residential solar installations—as well as the benefits they’ll bring to the Tribe for generations to come. Photo from GRID Alternatives

DOE Office of Indian Energy Director Chris Deschene attended the April 22 event to celebrate the completed residential solar installations with the Bishop Paiute Tribe and project partner GRID Alternatives. Photo from GRID Alternatives

Since winning its first U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant to train tribal members to weatherize homes in 2010, the Bishop Paiute Tribe (Bishop, CA) has learned a lot about what it takes to develop and deploy a tribal energy project. Over the past 7 years, the Tribe has carefully cultivated all the requirements for success—supportive leadership, a local project champion, synergistic partnerships, skilled workers, and funding sources, including two additional grants from the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs. Now the Tribe's efforts are coming to fruition as it moves ever closer to its long-term goals of achieving energy self-sufficiency, environmental protection, and better lives for its tribal members and community.

At an Earth Day event held on April 22, the Tribe celebrated the completion of 56 residential solar photovoltaic (PV) installations totaling nearly 180 kilowatts rated capacity, co-funded by DOE Office of Indian Energy grants awarded in 2015 and 2016. In addition to saving tribal members more than 90% on their electric bills, and providing 18 tribal members with 725 hours of solar installation workforce training during the two phases of construction that began in 2015, this success also marks a key milestone in the Tribe’s journey toward energy independence: the Tribe is now a quarter of the way to its goal of installing solar PV on 200 tribal homes—half of the low-income homes on the Reservation—by 2020.

“The savings from the installations are making a difference, especially for tribal members in the greatest need, and is a step toward becoming more self-sufficient,” said Tribal Administrator Mervin Hess.

Tribal participants in the Bishop Paiute solar project view the project’s triple bottom line of financial savings, job training, and clean energy as a boon to their community in the economically depressed, drought-stricken, and polluted Owens Valley.

“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,“ said Harlan Dewey, a member of the Bishop Paiute Tribe who not only had solar installed on his home but also received training from the Tribe’s project partner, nonprofit GRID Alternatives, through the program. “With the money we save from solar, I’m planning to expand on our home and do improvements. 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 happy to help my people and to share the program with other tribal members.”

The Bishop Paiute tribal installations are part of a larger tribal solar program led by GRID Alternatives 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 Office of Indian Energy.

“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,” said Office of Indian Energy Director Chris Deschene. “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."

Noting that tribal communities face some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the United States, GRID said it launched its national tribal program with the long-term goal of making solar power and job training accessible to tribal communities throughout the United States.

“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,” said Tim Willink, Director of Tribal Programs for GRID Alternatives. “Our model has worked for a variety of tribal communities, and these federal grants will bring solar power to even more families.” 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.

Learn about other successful tribal energy deployment projects funded by the Office of Indian Energy.