Solar plant to be built on reservation


The Southern Ute Indian Tribe will continue its expansion of providing renewable energy across tribal land; as of Monday, Nov. 9, the Southern Ute Growth Fund and La Plata Electric Association announced that a proposed solar photovoltaic project has received approval from the Southern Ute Tribal Council.

The project will allow a solar energy facility to be established on 10 acres of tribal land in Oxford, just outside of Ignacio, and will generate energy equivalent to 15 percent offset of the total energy usage at about 10 tribally-owned buildings, or about the equivalent of the electricity consumption at 250 common households.

“A project like this has been a long time coming,” Vice Chairwoman Ramona Eagle said after the approval was made. “I’m happy this is finally happening and that we continue [expanding] solar energy in Indian Country.”

The Southern Ute Alternative Energy, LLC (SUAE), a division of the Growth Fund, has worked with LPEA since the beginning of 2014 on details for connecting the one megawatt solar facility to LPEA’s electric distribution lines, with hopes of building more solar facilities in the future once the price of solar energy goes down.

The project has grant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, which specifies that the project must be built on tribally owned lands and that the electricity generated is for the benefit of the Tribe.

In Jan. 2014, the Tribe was awarded $1.5 million in grant money to install the solar facility, while matching the funds with $1.5 million of its own.

“We appreciate the support of LPEA’s staff and Board to help make this project a reality. We are pleased to be able to bring this project and its locally-produced energy to the tribal community,” Bob Zahradnik, Southern Ute Growth Fund Operating Director stated.

Solar energy facilities have the tendency of lasting from 25 to 30 years and provides cleaner energy than coal emissions, which is what most of the tribe is powered by.

“From a science point of view, the solar energy facilities hold up well over time. They are more efficient and cheaper than they used to be,” Rebecca Kauffman, President of the Southern Ute Alternative Energy said. “The reservation will be seeing cleaner power in the near future thanks to this approval.”

The next steps of action for the project are to finalize the specific site on the reservation with a complete detailed design and pass LPEA’s engineering review.

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