On The Plains, a Nebraska Tribe Has Become a Leader in Solar Power Generation

A tribe in Nebraska is taking some big steps in the world of #solar power generation. These steps are helping the planet & creating self-sufficiency.


In Nebraska, the already has enough panels installed to generate 400 kilowatts of solar . This is more than any other in the Midwestern territories has managed to achieve. And the good news keeps on coming: the tribe doesn’t intend to stop here. Their plans are as ambitious as those of any big company.

This little tribe of American Indians plans to extend its solar power generation capabilities by another 300 kilowatts this summer. They have applied for a grant from the federal government – a grant that would cover roughly half of the costs. The response to their application will be received this summer and work is set to start as soon as possible once the grant is received.

This American Indian tribe in Nebraska has close to 850 people and tribal leaders state that their solar power initiative is designed to support a green way of life and sustainability. The people want to be self-sufficient. In addition, according to the tribal leaders, the solar energy panels are helping the tribe cut its electricity bills.

Making Positive Changes by Focusing on Solar

Ho Chunk Inc. is the economic development company of the tribe. Their community engagement and impact division is led by Ann Marie Bledsoe-Downes, who states the company is all about renewable energy like solar power. It is the tribe’s number one concern. The people want to produce all the power they need from renewable sources and they wish to diminish their carbon dioxide footprint.

The whole idea appeared in 2008 when the tribe decided to try an experiment. They installed 25 kilowatts of solar panels to see if solar energy could really be produced cost-effectively. The experiment worked and tribe members quickly gave their full support to the initiative. Over the last couple of years, the small idea quickly grew into an ambitious plan.

Just like schools, government entities and churches, Indian tribes do not have any kind of tax liability. This means they are unable to take advantage of tax credits awarded for renewable energy projects. However, in 2002, the United States Department of Energy began to award grants to Indian tribes. The solar energy grants are awarded in a competitive manner, which means the solar energy projects must be very well-planned and documented. Up to date, the Department of Energy has awarded grants for a total of approximately 250 renewable energy projects. This means almost $80 million in grants, so it’s not a small sum at all.

Most of the solar grants have been awarded to Indian tribes in the western parts of the United States. In the Midwest region, Forest County Potawatomi (located in Wisconsin) obtained the largest grants from the US government. The Forest County Potawatomi managed to build a solar plant capable of generating 1.61 MW of energy. The Winnebago Tribe obtained just $425,000 from the federal governments, and they have matched these funds with money gathered from tribe members and sponsorships.

Unbeatable Benefits: Big Cost-Savings & Self-Sufficiency

However, the investments into solar energy are already lowering the energy bill of the tribe. According to the Midwestern tribe and the company that installed the solar panels, the project is saving the tribe roughly $47,000 every year on electricity. In addition, the carbon footprint has been significantly decreased. The tribe is able to generate electricity from renewable sources, and is slowly but surely working toward achieving total self-sufficiency.

Many of the solar panels have been installed in Winnebago. This is where most of the members of the Indian tribe reside. Solar panels have already been installed on powwow grounds, on the senior center, on the office of economic development, on the veterans’ building, and even on some housing for seniors. Recently, the Midwestern tribe managed to build an array of solar panels on a field outside of Winnebago town. The field has a capacity of no less than 60 kilowatts and is mounted on the ground. Its main use is to generate electricity for a convenience store and for a second-hand car dealership.

Robert Byrnes, the owner of the company that mounted the solar panels, communicated that the Winnebago Tribe has the most solar panels in Nebraska, a state where lawmakers and utilities are relatively reluctant toward solar technology.

Unfortunately, solar arrays placed on rooftops are rare because many of the residents do not own the homes they live in. The homes are, in most part, the property of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and of the tribe itself. However, private housing projects are growing in number in the town of Winnebago. Residential solar may get a boost once enough private housing projects have been completed.

While the tribe is very interested in investing into placing solar panels on the roof of every home, building homes is much more important at the moment. According to tribal leaders, there is a severe shortage of housing and the community is focusing on solving the housing shortage crisis. But things will surely change in the future.

More Solar Changes Could Be Coming Soon

If the application for the $350,000 grant is accepted, the tribe will most likely add new solar panels on rooftops. There will be an additional 300 KW of solar power being generated by this small Nebraska community. The casino and the tribal headquarters are just two of the buildings most likely to receive their very own solar panels.

And the Indian Tribe is committed to keeping all their solar panels 100% functional. They have a monitoring system in place where all the solar sites are being inspected every month. Readings are being taken and repairs are being done as soon as they are needed.

The tribe has already received approximately 100 visits from leaders of neighboring tribes, curious to learn more about the solar projects. And it looks as though other tribes are considering applying for federal grants and already planning their own solar projects, following the example set forth by the forward-thinking Winnebago Tribe. Follow solar news to stay on top of the innovative changes taking place every single day!






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