Wednesday, January 20, 2010

First tribal solar plant to be built in New Mexico

The 3,000-member Jemez Pueblo tribe in northern New Mexico is on the verge of building the nation's first utility-scale solar energy plant on tribal land. The project, which could bring millions of dollars to the tribe, is moving ahead with the site selected and the contract to sell outsiders the four megawatts of electricity at hand, Susan Montoya Bryan of The Associated Press reports.

"Experts say tapping into the sun, wind and geothermal energy on Indian land could generate the kind of wealth many tribes have seen from slot machines and blackjack tables," Bryan writes. "We don't have any revenue coming in except for a little convenience store," James Roger Madalena, a former tribal governor who now represents the pueblo in the state Legislature, told Bryan. "It's very critical that we become innovative, creative, that we come up with something that will last generations without having a devastating impact on the environment."

Renewable energy presents a new revenue option for Indian tribes, which control more than 55 million acres, Bryan reports. The U.S. Department of Energy's Tribal Energy Program estimates those lands are capable of producing 535 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year from wind power and 17 trillion kilowatt hours per year of electricity from solar power. The Pueblo plant will feature 14,850 solar panels than can supply enough electricity for about 600 homes. "Not every tribe is a gaming tribe, but every tribe is an energy tribe," Roger Fragua, a consultant working with the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, told Bryan. (Read more)

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