Solar panels will power three buildings

August 2017 article, CUJ

Map of the solar panels.

MISSION – Electricity generated from a 300-foot-long solar array to be installed on the south side of the Tribes’ Field Station and Engineering Laboratory is expected to power new LED lights in three buildings on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Over the anticipated 25-year lifespan (warranty) of the project, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) expect to save more than $450,000 in electrical utility bills, according to Rod Skeen in the Department of Natural Resources.

Total cost for the project is estimated at $267,000, but the CTUIR investment will be less than one fourth of that amount.

Skeen and Patrick Mills, a CTUIR scientist, began work on the project two years ago, but last month received the final funding piece - $133,706 from the U.S. Department of Energy, which will cover half of the cost. The Energy Trust of Oregon is providing incentive funds of $71,128 and the CTUIR is pitching in about $60,000. A Wildhorse Foundation grant of $20,000 paid for an energy audit conducted as part of the grant proposal.

The CTUIR was one of only 13 projects nationwide to receive grants to “Deploy Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency on Indian Lands.” Another Northwest award of $1 million went to Spokane Indian Housing Authority at Wellpinit, Washington. Tribes from Alaska to North Carolina and from Wisconsin to California also received grants from the DOE, which shelled out a total of $7.8 million in the effort.

The savings generated by the solar panels will pay for the CTUIR’s portion of the funding within five years, which means additional years of electricity will be at no cost.

The project, called “On the Path to Energy Independence and a Clean Power Future,” will install 96.6 kilowatts of clean energy for the 4,000-square-foot Field Station Science and Engineering Laboratory (formally the Department of Science and Engineering – DOSE) built in 2011, the 8,800 square foot Public Transit Center Maintenance Shop and 6,380 square foot Kayak Public Transit Bus Barn, both built in 2013.

“There will be enough power for all three with maybe a little extra,” said Mills. “If there is extra we can loop in the street light monitors.”

The solar panels will be installed directly to the south of the Field Station. The 300-foot by 20-foot PV array will be composed of 276 solar panels mounted on a fixed ground-mounted tracking system built of steel and concrete.

In addition to saving about $13,000 a year, the CTUIR will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel based power generation systems by 22.8 tons a year. The project will reduce the total energy use of the three buildings by 88 percent.

Further, the project will enable Tribal staff to become skilled in installing and maintaining PV systems and will assist in completing similar work in the future.

This project is relatively small, Skeen said, but with interconnection right outside the field station and with infrastructure already in place, this was the “perfect project.”

Projects of much larger size were being discussed, Skeen said.

One of those projects would have provided power to the entire Nixyaawii Governance Center “but a larger amount of money would have created a substantial investment of capital from tribal government.”

Instead, the smaller project was an “easy sell” for the Tribes’ Board of Trustees.

There are no obstructions in the development area to prevent sunlight from reaching the solar panels. And the array will not impact the local view shed, an issue that has been a problem with local wind power development.

The CTUIR has actively pursued the development of renewable energy projects for many years. For example, the Tribes have invested in the 104 MW Rattlesnake Road Wind Farm near Arlington, Oregon. Other projects include the 50kW wind turbine and 123 kW solar carport at Tamastslikt Cultural Institute.

Most recently, the CTUIR was awarded funding to conduct an on-reservation geothermal resources assessment with the intent to develop resources for power producing and/or heating applications.

This story originally appeared in CUJ.