You are here

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 Katie Hall 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 One” to hear from her fellow intern Teri Allery.

My name is Kathryn Hall, but I prefer to be called Katie. I am an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. My Tribe’s Reservation is located in north central North Dakota, approximately 10 miles south of the Canadian border. I have lived just outside the town of Belcourt, which was located on the Reservation from the time I was born up until I moved away for college. I went to school at the Turtle Mountain Community Schools in Belcourt from elementary school through high school, where I graduated valedictorian of my class in 2012.

After high school, I moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota, to attend college at the University of North Dakota (UND), where I earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a minor in mathematics in the fall of 2016. I am currently a graduate student at UND pursuing a master’s degree in chemical engineering with an emphasis in materials science and manufacturing. I plan to complete my degree in the fall of 2018. If all goes as planned, I hope to continue on to the PhD program at UND or possibly get a job at a national laboratory.

Here is my story as an intern through the Office of Indian Energy’s summer internship program. I applied for an internship through the Office of Indian Energy because of my desire to learn new ways of researching that I had not had the opportunity to experience in my previous studies. I had participated in several research programs at my university, which were all in a laboratory setting. Field research is something I had always wanted to do, but never had the opportunity until this internship.

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

Two interns at the Navajo Nation in Arizona
Interns Teri Allery and Katie Hall on a field visit to the Navajo Nation in Arizona

July 10

Navajo Nation
Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA)
Ft. Defiance, Arizona

A Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) Renewable Energy Engineer gave us an overview about NTUA and some of its new and future work on renewables. She told us about NTUA’s mission to strive for greener energy and their green building initiatives. She mentioned that all of the newer facilities that were coming up were built to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certified. I was interested in what it meant to be LEED certified, so I did some research. To be certified, the building must be resource efficient, meaning the building uses less water and energy, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions and, as an added bonus, saves money.

She also told us about NTUA’s off-grid customers. The NTUA rents out solar/wind/battery units to off-grid customers for about $80‒$100/month so those families can have electric power. A lot of the families that are using these systems are so far off grid that the power grid would probably never reach them. I thought this was a really cool program for the people; however, not cost effective because of how much these systems cost and how little the users have to pay.

Three women standing in front of solar panels.
Sandia Indian Energy Program Lead Sandra Begay with interns Teri Allery and Katie Hall at NTUA

July 11

NTUA LEED Building, Off-Grid Solar, and Solar Farm
Chinle and Kayenta, Arizona

When we were at the NTUA building in Chinle, our host told us a bit about the new building. This was the LEED-certified building I mentioned earlier. He told us the building was made from renewable materials, and I think he mentioned some were recycled. He said on a good day the two solar arrays, which are connected to the building only and don’t connect to the grid, provide 30% of the power the building uses. I liked the NTUA building.

He also told us that anywhere from 500 to 8,000 households on the Navajo Reservation still don’t have electrical power, and 60% don’t have water/waste utilities. I thought this was a really high number. On my Reservation (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians), I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t have both running water and grid power.

We met with an NTUA electrician in Kayenta. We then went to the home of one of NTUA’s off-grid customers. The drive to the customer’s house was something else! I expected her to be way out in the middle of nowhere, but I did not expect the ride to be as rough as it was. Part of the time we weren’t even on a road! I was also surprised to see the woman’s house. It seemed like any normal house you would see, but it only had solar powered lights, no fridge, and no running water.

After the off-grid tour, we went to see the solar energy facility near Kayenta that we had been hearing all about. For this, we did a driving tour, since the facility is so large. I thought it was cool how the panels followed the slope of the land. It looked like blue waves from a distance. I also thought it was cool to learn these panels could power about 13,000 homes (I think this number must have been ball-parked based on current power usage by the average household). I think if this power were used in the same way the people who live off-grid use power, it would be able to power many more homes. This made me think that maybe in the future everyone should have to take classes in school about energy conservation because these off-grid families can use so much less than the average family.

July 12

Glen Canyon Dam and Navajo Generating Station
Near Page, Arizona

When we drove up to the dam, I was surprised at its size. This was my first time seeing a dam of this magnitude. The size of the machinery to make this dam and the amount of concrete it took to make it were really mind-blowing. Another thing worth mentioning is the turbines. The facility has been installing newer and more efficient turbines to combat the lower water levels they have been seeing. It was really nice that they were replacing the turbine nearest to the windows so we could look down and see into the turbine’s housing to see the scale of these things. The people working inside the housing looked so small that it kind of gave us an idea of how big the turbines are.

After the Glen Canyon, we went to tour the 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. It wasn’t quite as big as some similar facilities I’ve seen, but it was very large. I really enjoyed touring this facility because I understand the process. My chemical engineering training really took over on this tour. I liked their facility, and I thought it was too bad they couldn’t retrofit it to burn biomass instead of coal, especially since the 2,250-megawatt (MW) plant has such a high output of electric energy.

July 13

Hopi Reservation
Kykotsmovi Village, Arizona

Our guides showed us around the Hopi Reservation’s three mesas. Each mesa was completely different from the others. I was kind of surprised by how many people didn’t have running water. Many people had solar electric energy. Their solar energy was much different than the NTUA’s systems. It was all put together by Hopi installers and bought by the individual people who had it on their houses. It must have just been what the people who owned it could afford at the time. I thought it was interesting how the villages didn’t allow any type of electricity in certain areas. Their culture was very different from what I have seen before. I also thought it was interesting how the Tewa people were mixed in with the Hopi people in First Mesa. When we went to the Tewa Community Center, I was surprised they were able to have so many large air-handling units on their building and still be off-grid.

July 14

Hualapai Reservation
Peach Springs, Arizona

Our host at Hualapai gave us a tour of several buildings in Peach Springs. He told us about all of his funding sources, and I found it pretty interesting that the money for those facilities came from so many places. Their newer buildings were really unique in style and design. They were really functional and energy efficient, which I thought was very smart because it will keep utility costs low in the long run. It seemed like our host was involved in so many different projects around Peach Springs, which I thought was pretty cool. Our host is definitely a great asset to his Tribe.

After the tour of Peach Springs, we drove to the Grand Canyon West. We took a back road, which was a shorter, but much rougher (I’m assuming) route. While we were on this road, we saw the water pipelines/hoses alongside the road. There really wasn’t much protection from the elements, and it was very close to the road. We also saw the solar energy system that was used to pump this water to the Grand Canyon West facilities. I found it very impressive that these facilities are completely off-grid. I was kind of surprised that in the long run it was cheaper to use generators and some solar to run this place rather than bring the grid to the facility, but the Tribe seems to be managing just fine with their current set-up.

August 7–11

Turtle Mountain Tribal Energy Planning
Belcourt, North Dakota

I had a few ah-ha moments while we were at the planning session help for my Tribe. I was surprised by the history of my Tribe when we did the history conversation during the strategic energy planning session. I didn’t really know a lot about the history of employment on our Reservation. I had no idea that those old buildings used to employ so many people in our area. I was surprised by how fast the jobs seemed to go away, too. I was also surprised by some of the ideas the people attending the session had. Their ideas were really good, and I think several of those ideas can be put into action. I also enjoyed seeing how everyone came together by the end of the session and intermingled with other people in the group. It was nice to see them open up to each other and share ideas. I also liked how facilitators, Lesley and Paul Kabotie, pulled everyone back on track every time they wanted to go off on tangents. I feel that is a really important part of facilitation, and I really appreciated how they did it, as well as how they kept the conversation light with jokes here and there. If they weren’t Native and didn’t understand Native humor, I think some of the discussions wouldn’t have played out as well.

Another ah-ha moment I had was when I saw the tribal college’s plan for future expansion. I was really surprised by how in-depth it was and all of the thought and planning that went into it. I would really like to see how that all plays out, and I hope they will consider a few of the design modifications I suggested.

A group of people listen to a speaker at Bonneville Power Administration.
Intern Katie Hall (seated, top right) listens to a presentation at Bonneville Power Administration

August 15–16

Warm Springs Dam and Bonneville Dam
Portland, Oregon

During this field visit, I had a couple of ah-ha moments. I was just surprised by all of the mountains being so close and how wide the Columbia River is―much larger than I could have imagined. I have never been to Portland or even the state of Oregon before. It was so pretty. When we took the hydropower dam tours, I thought it was really cool to see how many dams are being used in the Pacific Northwest. I was surprised by the amount of power they can get from all of the dams they have. I really liked one of the dams that was all made of rocks. It looked more natural that the cement ones that we saw during our first field visit (Glen Canyon Dam). It was interesting to see how the rivers were divided between the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the state, and how this played into who has majority ownership over the dam on the Warm Springs Reservation. I also thought it was cool how the Tribe had its own water and power company. It’s kind of like the NTUA on the Navajo Reservation. I think any tribe having ownership of its own utility company is a pretty great thing. It is something that I hope my Tribe can do in the future.

August 24

Navajo Nation – NTUA 27.3-MW Solar Farm Grand Opening
Kayenta, Arizona

When we were at the grand opening, the speakers talked a lot about how the solar farm came to fruition. Part of the process was getting the Navajo land to place the solar farm on. I was kind of surprised that a family’s land used for grazing is where the solar farm was placed. I thought it was great that a whole family came together and agreed to allow for this project to be placed on their grazing area land. I was also surprised to hear that NTUA already had plans for expanding the new facility another 27.7 MW. I also thought it was interesting that some of the elders from the family cannot speak English. I have read about this, but I didn’t think I would meet any of these elders.

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. Also, read “What It’s Like to Be an Indian Energy Intern: Part One" to hear from her fellow intern Teri Allery.