Solar Project Saves Community Thousands on Energy Bills

In this tribal energy snapshot, learn more about the solar energy project helping to power two tribal buildings on the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation. The project was cofunded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy.

A large solar panel in a parking lot with fields in the background.
A 182-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system at the San Xavier Administration Building.
Photo from Sandi Alvarez

Project Quick Facts

In October 2021, San Xavier completed a grid-tied solar photovoltaic (PV) system for two tribal buildings: the District Administration Building and the Education Center. The objectives of the project were to offset carbon emissions, increase self-reliance and community resilience, and reduce overall energy costs for the District.

Take a glance at the project by the numbers:

Total energy generation:

The system generates an estimated 440,000 kilowatt-hours per year, enough electricity to supply 41 average American homes for one year.

Savings to the Tribe:

The estimated total cost savings for the Tribe is $2,570,000 (over the 25-year life of the system).

Total project cost:

The project cost nearly $870,000 with DOE and the Tribe each providing 50% of the cost.

Infographic that reads 440,000 kilowatt-hours per year. Enough electricity to supply 41 average American homes for one year.

Insight From the Project Team

Learn from San Xavier District Director of Administration Sandi Alvarez, who shared some insights based on her experience with the project.

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Sandi Alvarez, Director of Administration for the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation talks about their energy savings.
Office of Indian Energy

"Our savings are incredible. We’re literally saving thousands of dollars a month on our energy bill. We have a pretty set budget on the services we provide the community in terms of education tuition, housing, repairs, elderly programs. And so now with the savings of our energy bills, we're able to allocate that money into all those other programs that we provide our community" - Sandi Alvarez

Why did the District initially pursue this clean energy project?

There were three main reasons we pursued the clean energy project. First, as a tribal entity, we wanted to reduce our overall carbon footprint. Between about 70 employees and six buildings on the District, we use a lot of energy. Second, we wanted to reduce the cost of our energy bill. Our costs are pretty high. Here in Tucson, Arizona, we have hundreds of days where pure sun is beaming down on us and the temperature gets well over 100 degrees outside, so we have our air conditioners going 24/7. We wanted a big solar project that would reduce [our bill] to almost nothing. And third, we wanted to provide education to the community on the importance of renewable energy.

How has the community benefited from the project since it became fully operational?

Our savings are incredible! [The panels] are literally saving us thousands of dollars per month on our energy bill. With the savings we now have back in the budget, we are able to allocate that money to provide our community more services, [such as] education tuition, housing, repairs, and elderly programs.

Three solar panels over a parking lot in a desert environment.
A 73.5 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system system at the San Xavier Education Center.
Photo from Sandi Alvarez

What has been the most exciting part for you personally since the project’s completion?

We have 11 districts on the Nation, and we’re the first to “go solar.” It’s exciting to see that we’re leading this, and other districts are coming here to gather information about our project because they see the benefits. The panels are right outside my office window, so I can look at them and feel accomplished because it was a lot of work! After the project completion, we held a big staff meeting under the panels with tables and chairs. It was just nice to have that shade, whereas before it would be pure sun we would have been sitting under. So, that was exciting!

Learn More

Learn more about this project, including additional background information, cost, and status on the project summary page.

Explore more tribal energy projects through the tribal energy projects database.