"Here Comes the Sun!"
Red Lake to Tap Sun, Solar Electric for Major Tribal Buildings
"The world may yet realize the ancient American Indian environmental ethic. This is important, it begins with us, and we must share this ethic." ~Gichi-Ma'iingan (Larry Stillday) Obaashiing. Notes to Biidaanakwad
The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians signed a formal agreement with the Winkelman Building Corporation and Innovative Power Systems, Inc., to design, engineer, procure, construct, and project manage solar energy projects for the three Red Lake casinos and various other tribal government buildings, and approved the utilization of the Olson Energy Corporation for the financing of said solar energy projects. The signing ceremony took place at noon on Thursday, February 18, 2016, at the Red Lake Government Center.
The solar power plan is divided into three phases, with the first addressing the process of adding equipment to buildings. The first phase consists of developing between $20-$30 million in solar energy equipment, as well as solar energy training for the Red Lake workforce.
The main part of the first phase, the installation of various photo-voltaic arrays, will commence soon on Red Lake Nation buildings including Seven Clans Casinos at Red Lake, Thief River Falls, and Warroad, Red Lake Government Center, Red Lake Nation College, Humanities Center, Justice Complex, Comprehensive Health - Hospital & Nursing Home, and Boys and Girls Club at an estimated savings of over $1.6 million per year.
Red Lake will install 15 megawatts - equal to 15 million watts - worth of solar panels across the rooftops of our largest buildings. When they're done, the panels will generate enough power to light every bulb in the tribe's three casinos, the tribal college and all government buildings.
It's one of the largest solar projects planned in northern Minnesota, and tribal leaders said it is a big step toward energy independence for the Red Lake Nation. Ft. Ripley has a 10-megawatt system on a solar farm covering 100 acres.
An informal press conference was held with representatives from TV, radio and newspapers. Media represented included John Enger of Minnesota Public Radio, Jackson Brunner from Public TV's Lakeland News, and reporter Matthew Liedke and multi-media Journalist Maggie Stivers from the Bemidji Pioneer. Stivers shot both video and still photos. The Pioneer featured a 5-minute video of Chairman Seki's speech.
"A well known and admired part of American Indian culture is an environmental ethic, a respect for the land. That coupled with Red Lake's reputation for leadership in Indian Country and its unique status, may draw more attention to the benefits of solar energy," noted one participant. "Red Lake could become a pilot project or role model for other non-profits and tribal or city governments in a more noticeable way than say a Ft. Ripley."
After an invocation by Red Lake Chairman Darrell G. Seki, Sr., Jobs & Community Development Facilitator Eugene "Bugger" McArthur, also acting as emcee, welcomed the group and described the agenda. It would include words from IPS, The Olson Group and Winkleman Construction, in addition to comments by McArthur and Seki. A Ceremonial Signing of the agreement, a lunch/social, and an informal press conference would follow speeches.
McArthur would speak first.
Eugene "Bugger" McArthur, Red Lake Jobs & Community Development Facilitator
"I am so proud and it is truly an honor for me today to be able to share with all the implementation of Phase I of the Red Lake Nation Solar Energy plan for the future," said McArthur. "This solar energy plan for the Red Lake Nation moves forward a project that was set in motion last year by band Chairman Seki with the full endorsement of the Tribal Council, then directed for me to develop."
McArthur said the development of the planned solar energy projects, displays the Red Lake Nation's commitment to:
• Preservation & conservation of our environment;
• Providing an energy source which is compatible with our Tribal beliefs of living in harmony with nature;
• Improving the quality of life, training for our labor force, & employment, jobs for our People;
• The development of cost savings in the operation of our facilities & providing a steady source of revenue;
• The diversification of our economy & investments;
• Providing a clean, renewable source of energy for our People;
"The Red Lake Nation Solar Projects/Industry will be developed in three phases with today initiating Phase I," said McArthur. "Phase I will consist of the development of $20 - $30 million of solar energy equipment to address the high cost of electricity in our larger facilities and provide 10 – 15 MW of power – 3 Casinos, RL Government Center, RL Nation College, Justice Center Complex, Humanities Facility, etc.
McArthur set the solar plan in motion over the last several months. He said the project will break ground this June, and save the tribe roughly $2 million a year in energy costs. "The use of outside power has chaffed the Red Lake Nation for some time. It's a sovereign nation," said McArthur, "but they rely entirely on electricity generated outside their borders, by means they believe are harmful to the earth."
But the 15-megawatt rooftop installation is only the first step of a larger renewable energy plan. The band is also in negotiations with Minnesota Power to build and operate a solar farm on ceded lands north of the reservation.
"Phase II will be the development of solar energy farms on our ceded lands up north and will consist of 40 – 100 acres of solar panels that will provide 10 – 20 MW of electricity to be sold to the grid," McArthur said. "Thus, producing a steady revenue stream for years to come for the Tribe."
The solar array will help Minnesota Power comply with the state's new solar mandate. It represents a part of the solar power that Minnesota Power needs to add by 2020 under a new law requiring investor-owned electric utilities to get 1.5 percent of their energy from the sun. Coops like Beltrami Electric are not subject to the same mandate.
"Phase III will be the development of a solar energy plant that will produce solar equipment for the industry, while providing jobs assembling solar panels for the members of Red Lake Nation," McArthur said.
"Eighty percent of phase one will be completed by the end of 2016, and we are already in the negotiating process for phase two," McArthur said. "We hope to begin and start breaking ground on that by the end of the year. It's going a lot quicker than we had anticipated."
"Lastly, miigwech, thank you very much, for sharing with us this meaningful and momentous occasion," concluded McArthur. "Meaningful from the standpoint, that renewable energy harnesses the natural forces of life, of nature, which provides the foundation for who we are as Native People. At the end of the day, our language, our songs, our cultural traditions are all based on the great gift of heat and light from Gimishoomisinaan Giizis (Grandfather Sun) and the many gifts of Gimaamaanaan Aki (Mother Earth). And as we move forward, we strive to utilize the many blessings from nature, with the utmost respect and adherence to the processes which preserve and conserve these precious gifts."
David Winkelman of Innovative Power Systems (IPS)
Innovative Power Systems (IPS), of St. Paul, is one of the largest renewable energy design and installation companies in Minnesota. They have designed and installed hundreds of solar energy systems since 1991, by far more than any other contractor in state. They will provide all electrical, structural, and civil engineering on all sites and provide training for Tribal members in the solar energy industry.
"Boozhoo, Aaniin and Hello," began Winkelman. "My name is David A. Winkleman and I represent both Innovative Power Systems and Winkelman Building Corporation. I am honored to be here and speak to you about solar power. Thanks to Eugene McArthur and others for believing in solar."
"I have been called the White Buffalo and my middle name is Arnold, which means the Brave Eagle," he continued. "My totem includes the eagle, the buffalo and Omakakii (frog). I am honored to be a part of the team that brings new hope for your people from the sun."
"All energy on earth comes from the sun directly or indirectly," Winkelman explained. "The more directly we tap the sun's energy, the less pollution we create. Around the world now we mainly use indirect forms of stored solar energy, like burning wood, coal, oil, fuel and gas that cause air and water pollution. Solar power can be harnessed by new technology more directly for electricity and heat in several ways. Direct solar power is a safe, effective, cost-efficient and environmentally responsible way to provide energy wherever it is needed. We need to move forward from the age of fire to the age of solar."
"The sun can make both electricity and heat," he said. "Heating is the most direct from the sun and it is something we learned when we lived closer to nature. Solar heating through both water panels and hot air panels is a good way to add heat to our buildings. But today I will talk about solar electricity."
Winkelman then pulled out a small solar panel about the size of an iPhone 6. "Have you ever seen a solar cell? Here is one and it is almost magical. The special silicon crystal is layered between glass and has silver wires on the back to collect the moving electrons. The sun strikes here with little energy packets of light called photons and these little energy packets excite the electron on the molecule of silicon, moving a loose electron, which just moves around in this crystal between the positive and the negative layers. That movement is of electrons is called electricity and the silver wires allow the current to flow. The electricity will continue to flow as long as there is light. Even on cloudy days, solar works at a lower level and makes power for your homes, your lights, your buildings and your whole nation."
"I have had a vision my whole life to help people live in better harmony with nature," Winkelman went on. "My vision for the Red Lake Nation is to power your homes, your government buildings, your local businesses, your schools, your farms, the Seven Clans casinos, your workshops, big buildings, small buildings and anywhere electricity or heat is required with power more straight from the sun. Solar systems can eventually be installed by the members of the Red Lake Nation on their own buildings and provide a good return on investment and create jobs and an internal industry for you."
"Our team is here to put up solar equipment on your buildings and at the same time, help you learn the solar industry. My vision is that your nation will eventually have thousands of installations of solar electric and batteries, solar heating and storage, smart controls and interconnections with the local power companies and everyone else through having your own power companies in your own homes more directly from the sun. You can also start your own solar businesses, employing your people in clean solar product manufacturing, solar installations and solar equipment service. There are many jobs that will be created when the Red Lake Nation starts creating their own local power companies with solar."
"The challenge is financing the up-front cost of the solar energy equipment," he said. "From what Bugger (McArthur) and I have figured so far, it will cost about 25- 30 million dollars of solar PV installations to cover the power bills that you now have, which is about 1.6 million in electric bills for the three casinos and your city government buildings, schools, gymnasiums and other large buildings. And these are just a few of buildings that you can cover with solar. You can also cover several acres of ground with solar and have solar electric farms. These solar farms can be located near three phase power lines or substations and make power for thousands of homes and businesses of Red Lake Nation. You would only need a few hundred acres of marginal use land to make power for your whole nation."
"I have a number of solutions about what is all available to you for financing," he concluded. "The Next speaker, Bob Olson, will talk about that more in-depth. Together, we will learn what type of financing works best for you. There are local, state and federal incentives, tax breaks, 'Green Credit' grants, rebates and lower equipment costs that will all make the transition easier to the beautiful solar energy."
"I thank you very much for the opportunity to be here and help fulfill my life's mission of teaching conservation of nature. Thank you, Miigwech," he concluded.
The installation won't be cheap. Winkelman estimates the cost at upwards of $20 million. The band itself will only pay $100,000 for the project, with the vast majority of costs shouldered by the Olson Energy Corporation, which specializes in shuttling solar developers through the government incentive system.
Robert A. Olson, President, Olson Energy Corporation
The Olson Energy Corporation has developed a financial plan to assist in addressing the financial needs for solar energy development. US tax law provides a variety of benefits to developers and owners of renewable energy projects as non-taxed entities such as units of government cannot benefit directly from these incentives.
"I am very, very proud and humbled to be here today at the Red Lake Nation," Olson began. On behalf of Olson Energy Corporation, I am extremely grateful that we will be able to provide this significant solar energy facility to you as a gift. Our work is just beginning so I hope to see a lot of each other over the next months. When this gift is completed five years from now, it is estimated that the Red Lake Nation will save over $20,000,000 dollars in energy costs over the next several decades."
"But that is almost not important compared to the significance of helping to save our planet earth," he continued. "The reverence that the Native American people have shown to our environment and our mother earth has been hugely important in my life. The sun and the wind have always provided life to the earth. Over the past century and one half humankind has done much damage to the planet, but the use of fossil fuels has also given us an opportunity to do some things that we would not have been able to do otherwise."
"But, now is the time to stop polluting our planet and utilize a source of energy that is now available to us without the very, very harmful consequences of fossil fuels and the potential danger of nuclear power," said Olson. "We, at Olson Energy, are very proud to have been able to develop the formula to allow for gifts of solar and wind energy to native tribes and other entities such as Universities and Cities and Municipal Power Companies."
"As a very boring tax attorney, I know that our government has provided very, very significant tax and other incentives for the development of fossil fuels and nuclear power. The tax incentives that we are utilizing pale in comparison to those that have been provided by our government to our gas and oil companies over the decades," said Olson. "It is our honor and pleasure to know that we have developed a method of providing renewable energy as gifts to not only native tribes but also that we will be providing such to cities and counties and other nonprofit organizations such as universities and public schools and other tax-exempt entities such as municipal power companies over the next number of years."
"We are very happy and proud that one of our first major projects is with the Red Lake Nation," he said. "It seems very appropriate that a Native American Tribe will be one of the first projects in our endeavors to save the planet earth in this manner. Thank you."
The Olson Group will use government tax credits and incentives to recoup their investment, and gift the solar arrays to the tribe after five years. At that point, the tribe will own the panels free and clear.
Darrell G. Seki, Sr., Chairman, Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians
After recognizing attending Tribal Council members, Secretary Don Cook, Treasurer Annette Johnson, and Ponemah Representatives Gary Nelson and Randy Kingbird, Seki began the last speech of the afternoon.
"This is a step for us as an Indian Nation a step toward alternative energy, and it's going to be a big opportunity with our businesses, our homeowners," he began. "Maybe in a few years, five years or longer, solar panels will be their electricity. We won't have to depend on Beltrami Electric. We'll provide our own energy resources for our people. That's always been in my mind for our nation, it's a great opportunity for us."
"But before I conclude my statements I'm going to talk about the environment a little bit too," said Seki. "What has happened regarding our environment, the pollution that has happened, it will continue to happen if we don't go to alternative energy for our resources, our lakes."
"Members of the Red Lake Band have always sustained themselves with fish from our storage lake, Miskwaagamiiwizaaga'iganiing, which is Red Lake," Seki quickly explained. "Our Red Lake commercial fishery has been an important part of the tribe and the regional economy for a hundred years. Red Lake Walleye are famous as the best walleye in the world. They are enjoyed at home, around the country and even our world leaders."
"But the lakes in Minnesota, all over US, have been contaminated by mercury and other toxic substances, and so have our fish," he said. "Man-made air pollution is the cause of this poison. Seventy percent of the mercury present in our lake's fish is from coal burning power plants, mining and related activities. Solar panels will provide heat, light, and energy without burning fossil fuels, and coal which harm our air, water, fish, and wildlife. These solar panels will provide energy for our enterprises and homes of our tribal members. And our schools will benefit for years to come and generations. We owe it to our future generation to protect our environment; we are doing our part here today. One thing is certain alternative energy sources such as solar energy are the key to the future of the Red Lake Nation."
In five years, Seki plans to generate enough solar power on tribal land to supply every home on Red Lake. "We'll provide our own energy for our people, not from the power plants that pollute our lakes."
"The overall philosophy is to re-connect all people to nature and inevitably to themselves. We know that history is a living part of the present.'' ~Gichi-Ma'iingan (Larry Stillday) Obaashiing. Notes to Biidaanakwad
"We are doing as our ancestors did. The people were asked, and then all came together and pooled their wisdom." ~Gichi-Ma'iingan (Larry Stillday) Obaashiing. Notes to Biidaanakwad
"It's not about Indians, it's about people! All the life forces must come into alignment! The Prophesies tell us that we are now in the time of a great healing. It says the four Colors of the human family are once again given an opportunity to bring each Color's gifts together and create a mighty nation," ~Gichi-Ma'iingan (Larry Stillday) Obaashiing. Notes to Biidaanakwad