Project Overview


Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians


Cherokee, NC

Project Title

Deployment of Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy on Indian Lands–A Community Solar Project

Type of Application


DOE Grant Number


Project Amounts

DOE: $1,000,000

Awardee: $1,306,826

Total: $2,306,826

Project Status

See project status

Project Period of Performance

Start: September 2017

End: September 2020


The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) will construct a 700-kilowatt (kW) solar photovoltaic (PV) system to offset the energy demand for four tribal buildings on the reservation. The system is expected to generate 1,007,340 kWh and annual savings of $99,122, based on a blended electrical rate of $0.0984/kWh. 

Project Description


The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is located at the doorway of the Great Smoky Mountains on the 56,000-acre Qualla Boundary, with more than half of its 16,000 members residing on this land. On April 24, 2006, the Principal Chief issued a proclamation—the Qualla Environmental Resources Initiative—to demonstrate devotion of the EBCI Administration to promote a healthy, sustainable natural environment within the Qualla Boundary and throughout the region. This legislation set forth the long-term energy vision of the Tribe by specifying that aggressive actions will be taken to implement alternative energy resources and to reduce energy consumption through lighting and heat/cooling changes. On January 9, 2007, the Tribal Council passed Resolution 636, which provided the Environmental and Natural Resources and the Planning and Development Office the authority to develop a Strategic Energy Plan (SEP). The Tribe also established an Energy Committee, comprising representatives from various departments within the Tribal Government, to develop the SEP.

The primary goals of the SEP are to: 1) protect, preserve, and ensure the wise utilization of the limited natural resources located on tribal lands for the Cherokee people in the most efficient manner and in an effective way; 2) ensure the natural beauty of tribal lands and natural resources, which are the basis of its cultural and economic well-being, are preserved and protected; and 3) identify opportunities for economic and community development that promote sustainable development and identify energy cost-savings opportunities.

Since the passing of Resolution 636, the EBCI has made investments in energy initiatives, which include small solar projects and energy retrofits to municipal building. Additionally, EBCI now owns and operates a water-treatment facility and is currently embarking on an effort to conduct a feasibility study to own a tribal electric utility to ultimately achieve energy independence. The casinos on the Cherokee and Murphy Reservations are a critical element in the EBCI tribal economy and sustainability plan because they are the largest employer in western North Carolina.

The casinos are paramount to the Tribe’s revenue and the local economy and are also a source of substantial energy demand. This project to install a 700-kW solar farm to offset the energy needs with a clean and renewable power source aligns with the EBCI’s SEP.

Project Objectives and Scope

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will install approximately 700 kW of solar PV system consisting of about 2,060 panels, generating clean renewable energy, which will be fully consumed on site. The power produced will offset the energy demand for four buildings totaling 155,352 sq. ft. The four buildings include the casino (110,400 sq. ft.), hotel (23,000 sq. ft.), and two administrative buildings (10,976 sq. ft. each) on the reservation. The system, once installed, is expected to generate 1,007,340 kWh for an estimated annual savings of $99,122, based on a blended electrical rate of $0.0984/kWh. In addition, the project will have a far-reaching impact well beyond these four buildings, because the energy savings will directly benefit the Tribe; tribal members; Murphy, NC, rural electric company; and surrounding communities. More importantly, this sustainable and clean-energy power generation aligns with EBCI’s tribal resolution and SEP, and fosters economic, cultural, and social opportunities and greater energy independence.

Project Location

The EBCI is located in western North Carolina, at the doorway of the Great Smoky Mountains on the 56,000-acre Qualla Boundary. The solar array will be constructed on land adjacent to the south of the casino on tribal land, near the town of Murphy, NC. The site chosen to accommodate this array also has additional land available in the event that EBCI can fund an expansion of this solar farm in the future. The interconnection for the solar array will be made in the 480-volt switchgear room, located in the main building of the casino. This interconnection point was chosen for its capacity and because of the electrical relaying and switchgear necessary to control both the solar array and the emergency-backup onsite generation for the casino.

Project Status

The project is complete. For details, see the final report.

The project was competitively selected under the DOE Office of Indian Energy Fiscal Year 2016 funding opportunity announcement "Deployment of Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy on Indian Lands – 2017" (DE-FOA-0001660) and started in September 2017.

The November 2017December 2018, and November 2019 project status reports provide more information.