Project Overview

Southern Ute Indian Tribe/Southern Ute Indian Tribe

Ignacio, CO

Project Title
Community-Scale Solar for Southern Ute Indian Tribe

Type of Application

DOE Grant Number

Project Amounts
DOE: $1,500,000
Awardee: $1,549,379
Total: $3,049,379

Project Status

Project Period of Performance
Start: April 2014
End: December 2016


The proposed project is a roughly 800-kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic (PV) system that will interconnect to the grid and provide solar energy to 10 tribal buildings on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation through an agreement with the local electric cooperative, La Plata Electric Association. The 10 buildings slated to benefit from the energy produced were selected due to their location and ability to offset greater than 15% of fuel usage through electric savings alone.

Project Description


Under its economic development plan, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe created the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Growth Fund to achieve economic goals, which include energy development. The tribe has a diverse economy but relies heavily on its businesses in oil and gas. The tribe is aware that the oil and gas resources will not continue to produce indefinitely and is looking to diversify its businesses by moving into alternative energy for the benefit of future generations. In 2008, the tribe created Southern Ute Alternative Energy, LLC (SUAE) as a for-profit business to start its business efforts in alternative energy. SUAE has evaluated solar PV development opportunities on tribal lands since 2008 but project costs have been too high to make pursuing them economical. The matching grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) makes the project economically viable. The project will bring a viable long-term, clean-energy operating company to Southern Ute tribal lands in accordance with SUAE's business goals.

During the last year SUAE completed a utility-scale feasibility study for solar energy development on the reservation and identified the Oxford Tract as the most suitable location for utility-scale development because the surrounding area has a strong solar resource, is located in close proximity to two substations, has no known presence of threatened and endangered species, and has areas contaminated by naturally occurring selenium, which limits the land's suitability for residential or agricultural use.

The tribe's Environmental Programs Division was recently awarded federal technical assistance as part of the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs 2013 Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) Program for Renewable Energy Project Development Assistance and is working closely with SUAE on this work. The START technical assistance provides an excellent opportunity to validate the recommended site and economic analysis before the final site selection is made.

Project Objectives

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe's objectives are to:

  • Reduce energy costs for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe by installing an approximately 800-kW PV system that will provide energy to selected Southern Ute Indian Tribe buildings
  • Increase tribal energy security through the use of local clean energy generation and build the capacity of the tribe to develop additional clean energy projects
  • Improve sustainability and increase economic and environmental benefits to the tribe through the development of a clean-energy operating business.

Lessons learned and partnerships formed during this project will increase the tribe's capacity to develop future renewable, sustainable projects.

By constructing a single, roughly 800-kW stand-alone facility, this project allows for the development of a large PV array that utilizes economies of scale to achieve a low installed cost per kW. This approach also eliminates costly building upgrades while enabling the buildings to take full advantage of the clean power even if the rooftop size and surrounding land would not. The proposed project furthers the tribe's goal to reduce operating costs for tribally owned buildings by providing less expensive power over the life of the solar panels, i.e., 30 years.

Project Scope

SUAE will release a request for proposal (RFP) for the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contractor within the first six months of DOE grant funding. The EPC Contractor RFP will require that the project use crystalline PV panels, inverters, and racking which have warranties and are, to the maximum extent practicable, manufactured in the United States. The project will use equipment with a proven track record of performing in similar climates with extreme heat and cold and windblown dust, snow, and rain. The project will only source the equipment from reputable manufacturers that have a track record of honoring their warranty and that support their equipment for the useful life of the project.  Initially, SUAE will establish a contract for the facility operations and maintenance with a qualified contractor and work to move the operations and maintenance in house as staff members are hired or trained. Collaboration between SUAE staff and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Permanent Fund staff ensures that this DOE Community-Scale Solar project will be professionally managed and completed on time and within budget.

Project Location

Located in southwest Colorado, the Southern Ute Indian Reservation is 681,306 acres in La Plata, Archuleta, and Montezuma counties. The project is a single location, ground-mounted solar facility approximately three miles from the main Southern Ute Indian tribal campus. The approximately 800-kW facility will provide over 15% replacement of fuel usage at the buildings listed in Section A. The project will cover nearly 10 acres of previously disturbed and mostly unusable land. The project location is in the vicinity of the Iron Horse and Rock Creek substations on or near the Oxford Tract, a parcel of tribal trust land within the boundaries of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.

Project Status

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

The project was competitively selected under the Tribal Energy Program's fiscal year 2013 funding opportunity announcement "Community-Scale Clean Energy Projects in Indian Country" (DE-FOA-0000852) and started in April 2014.

The March 2014May 2015December 2016, and December 2017 project status report provides more information.