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Navajo Nation discusses "Solar Power for All"

Navajo Nation discusses "Solar Power for All"

Navajo Nation lands have significant solar potential


Recently when Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly visited Niagra Falls and listened to the roaring water, it reminded him that water is power, and power is forever.

“As long as the sun shines there is power, clean power. The wind’s the same way. As long as the wind blows, it provides power,” Shelly told a crowd gathered Friday at Navajo Nation Museum for “Bridging the Gap; Solar Power for All,” moderated by Anna Rondon.

“We’re in dire need for energy and dire need for new technology,” Shelly said. One possibility is developing a wind farm at Big Boquillas Ranch, owned by the tribe. “We have enough developers coming to our doors right now that we can now negotiate with them.” So many developers, in fact, that there is talk of “weeding out some of these alternative energy companies and putting a moratorium on it and selecting two or three for solar and wind power,” he said.

In addition, Shelly said his plan is to have Community Health Representatives gather the names of their elderly clients who don’t have electricity and see if the Nation can get funding to supply them portable power. “If that’s the case, the portable power has to be manufactured somewhere. These are things that can provide economics and also jobs,” he said.

Sandra Begay-Campbell of Sandia Lab said the Ramona Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians, a small landlocked tribe in southern California, is using a hybrid wind/solar energy system to live totally off the grid.

Cal Curley, field representative for U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, delivered a message from the congressman, who was unable to attend. “America’s energy policy undermines our economy, our security, and our world’s fragile ecosystem.”

Humans have managed to overwhelm the earth’s carbon cycle, radically altering the carbon balance that has sustained life on earth for millennia, he said.

“The result is we are literally frying our earth. Scientists say that global warming will have the effect of virtually moving New Mexico 300 miles to the south and depositing us in the Sonoran Desert. If that happens, our way of life won’t just change, it will end.

“Some people claim that we are not yet running out of easily available oil or that the climate is not changing that quickly,” according to Udall. “I look at it like this. We are driving toward a cliff. I don’t want to spend a lot time arguing about how far off that cliff is. I want to stop hitting the gas pedal.

“The good news is that we have the power to solve both of these problems. We can make our economy produce high-paying jobs and we can do it by putting our people to work building a more sustainable energy economy.” he said.

Dr. James Davis, chief of staff for Navajo Nation Council Lawrence T. Morgan, said Morgan is working on a plan to do just that. Morgan has connected with the green jobs group in Flagstaff. “We have a new project that we’re working on, which tries to bring outside groups to the Council and allow it to explore possibilities into the future.

“One project that we’re doing currently is regarding that, exploring the whole notion of energy and green jobs. This is wonderful because Navajos, traditionally, have been aware of the environment; but finally we’re marrying concepts with action.” Morgan will be presenting legislation possibly during winter session.

Eni Begaye of Green Economy Coalition said they are talking about diversifying and creating green jobs that are low- or non-polluting. “Essentially what we want to do is create a Navajo Green Economy Coalition that would allocate funding to organizations or businesses through an RFP granting process for entrepreneurial efforts, to do start-ups and get these businesses off the ground and rolling.”

The coalition made up of a multistakeholder group would oversee allocation of the funds and would work with entities within the Navajo Nation which are trying to develop wind and solar projects. It also would establish within each of the five Navajo agencies, offices that could work with existing community development offices to help communities come up with those plans.

“To get the funding is only the beginning. The rest of the plan is helping the communities come up with long-term sustainable employment sources,” Begaye said. Funding could go to small-scale wind projects, textile mills that handle wool produced locally, a weaver’s co-op, or a farmers market, for example.

Begaye said they will be asking the Navajo Nation to put $10 million toward green job investments into the fund.

Gordon Isaac, also of the Coalition, said about eight chapters already have approved supporting resolutions.

Fred White, deputy director for the Division of Natural Resources, said there is approximately 5,000 megawatts of wind energy power available within the Navajo Nation. “If developed, the Navajo Nation could be a major player in energy development in the Southwest and western United States.” The military is the largest user of electricity in the United States, according to Begay-Campbell.

At Navajo Technical College, professor Raymond Griego and his students spent four years building their own 500-watt-per-hour wind turbine from scratch and braving the elements to erect it.

The wind turbine’s blades are made from 2 by 6s and took an entire semester to carve. Griego said the turbine works on an alternator theory, sort of like a car. “The whole idea for this was to attract people from our community to learn how to build one of these,” he said.

They are now working on a 2.5 killowatt wind turbine with the help of Terry Battiest of Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, who also presented information on NTUA’s electricity alternative for Navajo homes, which includes 640-watt solar and 880-watt wind hybrid systems for about $95 a month.

“Hybrid,” in this case, means combined wind and solar sources.

David Brunt said Gallup Solar is hoping to collaborate with communities, elected officials, utilities and industry to bring solar power to all people in the area. They are looking at two potential sites: Prewitt and Gamerco. “Someday in the near future our whole energy base will change,” Brunt said.

Gallup Solar received capital outlay of $45,000 from the New Mexico Legislature and is putting out an RFP on a partnership. “We’ve talked with PNM, trying to get them to locate a plant in Gallup,” he said. He also spoke Friday with Steven Begay of Dine Power Authority in hopes of partnering with DPA.

“Gallup Solar is not just a utility-scale solar plant. It’s a paradigm shift in people’s thinking,” Brunt said.

Michael Sawyer, president of Global Energy Systems Inc., hopes to bring commercial-scale solar projects to Native American tribes and communities such as Gallup. “Pending governmental subsidies through tax credits we will be beginning the largest installation for Native American tribes in the United States. ... Our smallest system is 25 killowatts and will power five to eight homes,” he said.

David Melton of Sacred Power Corp. also hopes to bridge the gap with “Solar Power for All.” Sacred Power built a solar carport at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque and is now thinking about solar plug-in chargers for electric vehicles.

Learn more about green jobs in New Mexico: