Santee Sioux Tribe starts solar power project

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe maintenance team lowers a pre-assembled pole mounted solar system frame onto its mount at the Royal River RV Park. The 8-inch pole is 17 feet long with 10 feet cemented into the ground to resist strong winds.

Brenda Wade Schmidt

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is investing in a $750,000 solar power project to provide energy for partial needs at several buildings.
Work started this fall on the installation of the solar equipment and panels, but the remainder of the project will wait until after winter is over. Completion is planned by next fall.
“They’re small systems that are associated with individual buildings,” said Robert Byrnes, owner of Nebraska Renewable Energy Systems and the consultant on the project. “It’s a big deal for the community and a very prestigious award.”
The project is being paid for through a 50-50 grant the tribe received from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Indian office of energy. Work to install the project is being done by the tribe’s maintenance department, and electrical work is being done by Jers Electric of Pipestone, he said.
Solar panels will be installed at 11 sites, including Prairie Junction at the Colman exit on Interstate 29. Those panels will provide up to 30 percent of the energy used at each site, Byrnes said.
“It’s like an energy efficiency project,” he said. “It’ll offset some power usage.”
The tribe was one of 12 in the nation to receive the grant. In the past, tribal leaders have talked about a larger-scale solar project that could supply power to meet all of its needs. This project is not part of that effort and is designed to generate 300 kilowatts of power.
Some of the areas where it will be used is at the grow facility, which is the former bowling alley; and at the Royal River Casino RV park, the community center, fuel stations and commercial buildings, the health clinic and tribal offices, for example.
The tribe is one of the city of Flandreau’s biggest customers, but the solar project should not have a large impact on the city’s electrical power system, said Jeff Pederson, city administrator. He estimates it might amount to 3 percent to 5 percent of energy use in the community.
The city has a provision allowing small solar power projects in its customer territory. This project falls under that area, he said.
The tribe has to make application with the city to use the system and that is under review at this point, Pederson said. The city needs to make sure the project’s process and equipment meets specific standards, he said.
Once that approval is given, the tribe can start using any power generated by the solar panels, he said. “I anticipate they will get their approval from us within the next several weeks.”
The use of “green” energy is important, and is part of the city’s portfolio of power, too, Pederson said. The biggest share of Flandreau’s electricity comes from hydro-electric generation from Missouri River dams.
“I think it’s part of the mission of all municipal electric utilities to support energy conservation,” Pederson said. “This is kind of an extension of that. From that standpoint, it’s compatible with our philosophy to not be overly dependent on fossil fuel generation.”
Representatives of the tribe did not immediately return phone calls to talk about the project.
In its grant application, the tribe said it wants to invest in energy systems to keep more dollars with the tribe and increase the use of renewable energy. “The tribe has made significant investments into energy efficiency and is now looking to take the first steps towards development of energy generating systems to save money and increase clean energy production on the FSST Reservation,” the application said.
Byrnes said South Dakota ranks in the top 15 for solar energy potential in the county. But state policies lag for the power development, he said.
“The solar resource is there,” Byrnes said.

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