New Mexico tribe building utility scale solar plant

Indian Country Today reports that the 3,000 citizens of the Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico are on the verge of building the nation’s first utility-scale solar plant on tribal land.

“We don’t have any revenue coming in except for a little convenience store,” said James Roger Madalena, a former tribal governor who now represents the pueblo in the state Legislature. “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.”

The 30-acre site where 14,850 solar panels will be set up has been selected, and after four years of arduous planning and negotiations, a contract to sell outsiders the electricity produced by the four-megawatt operation is at hand. The plant would be capable of cranking out enough electricity to power about 600 homes.

Renewable energy is a new option for bringing revenue to Indian country, where many communities are poverty-stricken and unemployment is often double the national rate. Jemez Pueblo’s effort comes after the federal government in 2008 turned down a request to let it build a casino because the proposed site was too far away from the community.

From 2002 to 2008, the U.S. Tribal Energy Program funded nearly 100 tribal energy projects totaling $16.5 million. A 2005 federal law authorizes up to $20 million for the program each year.

The Campo Kumeyaay Nation outside of San Diego is home to a 50-megawatt wind farm, and the tribe is joining forces with San Diego Gas & Electric Co. to build a second wind farm capable of producing 160 megawatts. Tribal wind farms have also sprouted up across the Midwest.

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