Tribe Seeks Energy Sovereignty With Solar Microgrid, Eco-Village & Utility

July 20, 2018
A tribal community in Cape Cod, Massachusetts is pursuing energy sovereignty with a solar microgrid, eco-village and Tribal Utility Authority.

A tribal community in Cape Cod, Massachusetts is pursuing energy sovereignty with a solar microgrid, eco-village and Tribal Utility Authority, and to date has received two federal grants to support this effort.

Planned site of tribal microgrid. Provided by MWCDC

The Mashpee Wampanoag Community Development Corp (MWCDC) hopes to establish energy self-sufficiency that supports its sustainability goals, said Mark Harding, president of MWCDC.

“We have always been proud people who haven’t given up any abilities within our powers. One thing we want to retain is energy sovereignty to create something and not take — to be part of the solution and not the problem,” said Harding.

The community development corporation will be issuing a request for proposals and request for information in the next 60 to 90 days, he said.

The tribe wants to incorporate its traditional ideas into a modern business model and is doing so with grants totaling more than $400,000 from the Division of Energy and Mineral Development (DEMD) at the US Dept. of the Interior’s Indian Affairs bureau.

MWCDC’s plan is to start its own utility company to service government buildings and build some pride in the fact that the corporation is running its own utility. Ultimately, the MWCDC wants to offer other services to tribal citizens, possibly other utilities such as phone and cable, he said.

The solar microgrid will be sized to support the tribe’s new government and community center, which incurs electricity costs of $100,000 a year. In general, the tribe pays 16 to 17 cents/kWh for electricity from the local utility Eversource, according to Harding.

The project will also support a planned 42-unit affordable housing project that the MWCDC will begin in 30 to 45 days, he said. Additional solar panels will be installed to provide the needed power for that project, which will be the heart of the eco-village.

The community development corporation hopes to choose a solar microgrid developer in the next 60 days.

MWCDC will begin the project to supply the government and community center with about 1 MW of solar, then will add storage, said Harding. It hopes to use the solar during the day and the storage at night. The corporation is seeking grants and funding from the US Dept. of Energy and wants to find a developer that can take advantage of available tax credits. As a sovereign nation, the tribe doesn’t file or pay taxes.

It plans on continuing to stay connected to the grid, and possibly provide services to the grid.

Why a solar microgrid

Between 2016 and 2017, consultant Baker Tilly and the MWCDC did a feasibility study of a Tribal Utility Authority and assessed wind and solar resources on tribal lands. The studies found that solar energy could offset energy costs, generate revenues, and reduce the tribe’s carbon footprint.

The project is expected to be a model for other native communities and other non-tribal governments, said Harding.

MWCDC was organized in 2016 to promote the social welfare, economic security, and community development of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and its citizens in ways that enable the tribe to be self-sufficient and provide economic support for citizens.

A number of tribes are now pursuing microgrids, Blue Lake Rancheria in Humboldt County, California, the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe reservation near Lake Havasu, Calif., and others in various Alaskan and Canadian communities are among them. The Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid is now up and running and collecting data that it wants to share with others. Located in Humboldt County, the project demonstrates how to cut carbon dioxide emissions, save money and provide reliable power in a crisis.

Most recently, Ontario Power Generation partnered with a First Nation government in northwestern Ontario on a tribal microgrid designed to reduce diesel use by the community. The solar and storage microgrid, developed for the Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek (KZA/Gull Bay First Nation (GBFN), will meet the nation’s entire energy demand. About 1,150 people live in the tribal community.

“What we see right now, because solar is so popular in Massachusetts, a lot of towns are putting panels up and producing electricity for themselves. This is something we will take to the next level,” Harding added.

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

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