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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Indian Energy is accepting applications until February 19 for our summer 2018 college student internship program. This month, we're featuring past Indian Energy interns in a series of blog posts. In this blog, 2017 summer intern Teri Allery summarizes her experiences as an intern during field visits to tribes in Arizona, North Dakota, and Oregon. Read “What It’s Like to Be an Indian Energy Intern: Part Two" to hear from her fellow intern Katie Hall.

Hello, all! My name is Teri Allery. I am a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians (TMBCI), located in the Turtle Mountains of North Dakota. I live on the TMBCI Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. We have about 31,000 enrolled members. A little over 16,000 of the enrolled members live on the Reservation or adjacent to it. We are located way up north, about 10 miles from the Canadian Border.

I graduated in 2016 from North Dakota State University (NDSU) with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. I am now a grad student at NDSU working on my master’s in construction management and engineering, and I will graduate in the spring of 2018.

As an intern last summer at Sandia National Laboratories for the DOE Office of Indian Energy, I participated in field visits and strategic energy planning sessions for various tribes. I was fortunate enough to attend a strategic energy planning session that involved the TMBCI, which was an honor for me as an enrolled member. The opportunity to be a part of the internship program has made renewable energy a new passion of mine. Field visits throughout the summer have given me so much insight on renewable energy technologies.

Below, I recap some experiences from my field research this summer.

A group of interns and Sandia Indian Energy Program Lead at Monument Valley.
From left to right: Melissa Parrish (NTUA); Sandia Indian Energy Program Lead Sandra Begay; interns Teri Allery and Katie Hall; Jasmine Yazzie (NTUA); and JoDonna John (NTUA) at Monument Valley, Utah

July 11

Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) LEED Building, Off-Grid Solar, and Solar Farm
Chinle and Kayenta, Arizona, and Monument Valley, Utah

We visited the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority’s (NTUA) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified building in Chinle, which was very interesting. I like that the building is green. The photovoltaic (PV) system was very cool—it rotated with the sun to get the most effective use out of the solar arrays. About 30% of the energy for the building is from solar PV, which is a fair amount of energy to be saved by using the PV system—it is a large building. The building also has other green features like low-energy appliances and lighting, double-flush toilets, and waterless urinals; plus, solar is used to heat the building’s water.

My ah-ha moment during this visit would have to be the two tracking solar PV collectors. I also liked that the building is set up to never be without power. The building is connected to the grid to cover the other 70% of electricity not generated by the PV system, but should there be an outage, they have a back-up generator.

Then, we drove out to an off-grid NTUA customer’s home, a 1.5-hour drive from Kayenta. The drive everywhere in that area was amazing. I didn’t expect that Navajo people lived that far out in the canyon. When you’re way out there and the NTUA electricians are explaining these “drop-box” PV units and what kind of energy they can produce, it really makes you think about how easy life is in the city—like they say, “as easy as the flip of a switch.” Here, there are people way out in the canyon using a PV system just to power their lights. The unit at this customer’s house was an 880-kilowatt (kW) system with a small turbine.

We also visited NTUA’s very recently opened 25-megawatt (MW) solar farm. It was pretty amazing to see the 119,000 panels set up—it took us about 30 minutes to tour the entire farm. In a way, NTUA is like the Campo Band of Mission Indians in California: Campo leases the land and doesn’t use the energy produced by its wind turbines. NTUA sells the energy its PV system puts out to states like California and Nevada, rather than using the energy that is produced.

July 12

Glen Canyon Dam and Navajo Generating Station
Near Page, Arizona

After doing some of my own research on the Hoover Dam, I thought it was interesting that only 18 men lost their lives during the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, compared to over a hundred who lost their lives during the construction of the Hoover Dam. I didn’t realize it takes several years for the lake to replenish its water supply. It’s sad to think about the possibility of the lake becoming a dead pool and the dam not producing any more energy for its customers. I know that it is nowhere near diminished as the Hoover Dam (Lake Mead)—but if the drought continues, who knows what can happen.

At Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant located on the Navajo Indian Reservation, near Page, Arizona, that provides electrical power to customers in Arizona, Nevada, and California, I thought about how the customers supplied by this generating station may need to find other alternative energy sources in the future. I liked that idea that they were looking into using the land to put up solar arrays.

July 13

Hopi Reservation
Kykotsmovi Village, Arizona

I think the ah-ha moment of our visit to the Hopi Reservation was seeing how one tribe’s success can start a wildfire of something amazing. Our host talked about a possible new huge 20-MW solar farm in lower Moenkopi Village. Going on all these field visits gets me going—I get excited, and all these ideas start running through my head. My goal as an intern was to give back to my community. Seeing tribes like Hopi being successful in developing renewable energy gives me hope that my tribe can also be successful, and I think I can be there to help make that possible. I also enjoyed learning so much about the Hopi culture. Our host was very knowledgeable and eager to teach us and answer any questions we had.

Our last stop of the day was at the Tewa Village. They have a very beautiful off-grid Community Center building. We learned that the plans for the building almost went down the tubes because the Tewa Village couldn’t get water or electricity to the building. That, however, did not stop the Tewa Village. They put up a PV system to power this entire building. They never gave up hope, but rather did what they had to do to get the job done; that was my favorite part about this visit. With the Tewa people’s determination, they now have landlines and are connected to water, which didn’t take long since they had the set-up that just needed to be connected. Soon they should also be connected to the grid.

Two women stand in front of Grand Canyon.
Interns Katie Hall and Teri Allery at Grand Canyon West on the Hualapai Reservation in Peach Springs, Arizona.

July 14

Hualapai Reservation
Peach Springs, Arizona

The Peach Springs tour was the most informative as far as learning about how tribes access grant money for energy projects. It was a nice insight into what I may possibly be doing in the future. Once you know what all the acronyms are, it starts to make sense how tribes can receive grants from different federal programs for buildings or solar PV systems. I didn’t know there were so many different programs that one could receive money from, nor did I know they could all be used on the same project.

The drive to Grand Canyon West was fun, and the scenery was amazing. I was a little shocked that the solar PV unit used to run water up to the Grand Canyon West was so far away from the facilities there. It was also interesting that they don’t bury the water line. For as many buildings as the Hualapai Tribe has, it would be interesting to see what size of solar farm would be needed for the energy used between all of the buildings. This was an awesome trip; I learned a lot of information I didn’t know or wasn’t sure about, and I had a blast.

Two women standing in Bonneville Power Administration.
Interns Teri Allery and Katie Hall at Bonneville Power Administration

August 15–16

Warm Springs Dam and Bonneville Dam
Portland, Oregon

This was one of my favorite trips of the summer. Not only did we get to see some beautiful scenery, we got to see some pretty awesome dams. My ah-ha moment for this trip at both dams was the same: it was the fish! It was truly amazing to see how much work, effort, and money is put into making sure these fish keep reproducing, head out to the ocean, and then come back. The amount of money spent on saving the fish is such a crazy amount. I get why they do it; one reason is because these fish seem to be the livelihood of the surrounding tribes. Another reason is because we can’t just build these dams and not care what happens to the fish; that would be inhumane.

On the energy side, we were told that if they had all the Columbia River generators in the power house running at once, they could produce an enormous amount of energy. Another thing I thought was interesting is how the dams work in conjunction with wind turbines, which keep energy at a steady flow. Finally, I was impressed by the sheer number of dams in the Pacific Northwest: there are a huge number of dams on the surrounding waters—14 federal dams alone—and then even more non-federal dams in between them.

Learn more about how the Office of Indian Energy’s college student internship program is sponsoring the next generation of Native leaders in science, technology, engineering, and math studies and careers. Read “What It’s Like to Be an Indian Energy Intern: Part Two" to hear from her fellow intern Katie Hall.