Project Overview

Ute Mountain Tribe

Towaoc, CO
(Includes land in New Mexico and Utah)

Project Title
Ute Mountain Ute 1 MW Solar Farm Feasibility Grant

Type of Application

DOE Grant Number

Project Amounts
DOE: $72,176
Awardee: $0
Total: $72,176

Project Status

Project Period of Performance
Start: June 2012
End: December 2013


The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has the renewable resources and the opportunity to become a national leader in renewable energy production through its local and commercial-scale solar developments due to its proximity to key interconnections in the Four Corners area and interest from various companies that can fund such projects.

Under this project, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe will assess the feasibility of building, constructing and operating a local-scale solar energy facility (designed to offset the current tribal energy/electricity load).

Project Description


For many years, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has depended on its income from the natural resources of the land and from federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) assistance. These resources include oil and gas, grazing land for herds belonging to tribal members, and land and water for the new farm and ranch project south of the Sleeping Ute Mountain. The monies from these and other government sources have helped to develop a network of Community Services: Food Distribution Services, Elder Support Services, Vocational Rehabilitation, Department of Social Services, Head Start and Child Care, Public Safety, and the other services associated with a community.

Recognizing that oil and gas revenues could not continue ad infinitum, the Tribe, over the last two decades, began creating what now totals six enterprises that would be income sources for the Tribe and create a job market for tribal members and others in the Four Corners region. The tribal government and enterprises continually seek ways to employ tribal members, assist them in times of need, and provide ways to enhance their lives.

In 2008, the Tribe created a Renewable Energy Subcommittee to help facilitate discussion with renewable energy developers and to advise the tribal government on issues relating to renewable energy development. This subcommittee consists of tribal staff from several tribal departments, including the Economic Development Department, the Energy Department, the Justice Department, the Environmental Programs Department, the Planning Department, and the Tribal Historic Preservation Department. The subcommittee takes direction from tribal council members and from the Executive Director. Other participants in the meetings include the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Weeminuche Construction Authority (the Tribe's construction enterprise). The Renewable Energy Subcommittee has regular meetings and can schedule special meetings or meeting times as needed with the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council, the governing body of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.

In 2010, the Tribe's Economic Development Department put forth a proposal to use funding from a tribal water settlement to hire a coordinator for the Tribe's renewable energy development program. This coordinator will oversee all renewable energy initiatives on the reservation and will organize and utilize the Renewable Energy Subcommittee. The Tribal Council authorized the application for the receipt of the water settlement funding in December 2010 and February 2011, and the Tribe is currently engaged with BIA to release those funds.

Project Objectives

The Tribe's long-term energy goals include reducing its dependence on outside interests such as the electric transmission companies and other electricity generators. This project is one important step in that direction because while a 1-MW array will not offset everyone's electric bills (due to basic demand charges and individual life-style decisions) it can show tribal members that electricity production is another way that their government can help them.

Specifically under this feasibility study, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe will:

  • Determine the best location, connectivity, and deal structure with the local electric cooperative and the company the Tribe purchases its electricity from for a 1-MW Solar Renewable Energy project
  • Identify the most practical and cost-effective ways to offset the energy demands of the Towaoc community—with focus on economic benefits for the Tribe
  • Determine how much benefit individual tribal members will receive from the project and how to maximize this benefit amongst tribal members with greatest need
  • Gain experience to assist the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in embracing clean energy as a part of its energy portfolio, both at the local scale and the commercial scale
  • Assist tribal members in their understanding of the benefits of solar power development at the local scale and foster greater interest and support for future solar development.

Project Scope

The feasibility study will include a detailed resource assessment, a detailed tribal load assessment, an assessment of interconnection to the local rural utility provider, an analysis of available and appropriate technologies, an analysis of the environmental benefits and impacts, an assessment of funding options and of business planning to implement the facility, preliminary system designs, and options for training and other tribal professional development planning.

Implementation of the project will involve a combination of tribal staff and contractors. Tribal staff in the Renewable Energy Committee will administer the grant and cost-share mechanisms and coordinate all necessary staff committee interactions with the Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) and Tribal Council. The Tribe is currently in the process of funding and hiring a coordinator for renewable energy projects on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation. Until such a person is hired, tribal staff on the Renewable Energy Subcommittee will serve as the contacts for this grant. Tribal staff will also conduct community outreach activities in the effort to educate and gain support for the project as it is planned, designed, and constructed. Contractors will conduct the load assessment, interconnectivity, and technology analyses and preliminary design.

The feasibility study will be completed using the following assessment and analysis techniques:

  • Site-Specific Renewable Resource Assessments: The resource, load, and interconnect assessments are site-specific and will proceed simultaneously. Resource assessment will include Solarmetric documentation of shading, PVWatts version 2, and historical wind and temperature documentation.
  • Load Assessments: Load assessments will include three years of data, including consumption, peak power, power factor, and daily load profile.
  • Interconnect Considerations: Proposed Interconnect arrangements will be documented and vetted with Empire Electric Association.
  • Technology Analysis: Various solar-electric options will be evaluated with respect to noise, water use, maintenance requirements, and energy production. Special emphasis will compare single-axis tracking with fixed tracking. This will involve an assessment of future load profiles and utility billing procedures.
  • Economic Analysis: Total lifetime project costing will be assessed as well as the cost/benefits of various funding sources.
  • Environmental Studies: Total lifecycle project environmental impacts and benefits will be assessed, including noise, water use, and effect on the tribal members, range resources, and wildlife. The environmental implications of the energy production will be documented, and with the economic analysis, will be used to inform and guide the future of the project with the membership at large and the tribal leaders and decision makers. Positive impacts to air quality and long-term implications on global climate change will be addressed.
  • Benefit Assessment: The employment and business development impacts of the project will be assessed with emphasis on the business development for Weeminuche Construction Authority, a tribal enterprise.
  • Preliminary System Designs: The selected system(s) will get preliminary design work, including site diagrams, one-line electrical diagrams and proposed design/build time tables.
  • Long-Term Operating and Maintenance Planning: The procedures and estimated costs for operating and maintaining the renewable energy systems (RES) will be documented.
  • Business Planning: Various funding sources and methods will be investigated consistent with the goal of the Tribe owning the resulting system. Annual cash-flow and internal rate of return will be modeled. The cost and benefit of using the project to expand the business of Weeminuche Construction Authority will be investigated.

Project Location

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation is located near Towaoc, Colorado, and represents more than 900 square miles of the Four Corners area of Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Elevation ranges from more than 4,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level and encompasses 582,321 acres. Towaoc, Colorado, located 11 miles northeast of the Four Corners, is the government center for the Tribe and has the highest concentration of its people. There is also a small satellite community in White Mesa, Utah, which is about 90 miles away.

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 2011 funding opportunity announcement "Renewable Energy Development and Deployment in Indian Country" (DE-FOA-0000422) and started in June 2012.

The November 2012 and March 2014 project status reports provide more information.