Volunteer Voices: Sustainable Energy on Native Lands

by Kirstin Moore, TWP Development Intern

It’s saddening to witness America’s Native people living in such poor, inadequate conditions. The Lakota were forced to migrate to the Pine Ridge Reservation, and after decades of oppression many of them are now unemployed, suffering from malnutrition, and unable to meet their basic needs. Some people living on the reservation have little to no access to the electrical grid. For others, electricity is available but the cost of the utility is impractical.

Upon arrival to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC), you are immediately welcomed by a huge mural with the words Hau Kola painted in large letters, which translates to “Greetings Friends.” It is a place where like-minded people who share a similar vision are able to connect. It all began with what Henry Red Cloud calls a “hot-air collector.” He was building his own when his curiosity led him to form a natural relationship with Trees, Water & People (TWP).

Photo by Kirstin Moore

Thanks to the supporters of TWP, a week-long workshop was held to educate Native Americans on how to build and maintain off-grid solar systems. What would have been a thousand-dollar training session was free for those interested in participating. People came from on and off the reservations, including Standing Rock, with the intention of spreading the word of harvesting sunlight as an energy source and job creator.

Professionals from Solar Energy International (SEI) taught us how to generate electricity through the simple task of monitoring the sun. Our team developed off-grid, 12 volt solar light buckets and a small 48 volt trailer with the ability to power lights, computers, pumps, and tools. The most amazing aspect of the training was that no matter your skill level, you were able to gain an understanding of what solar power can do and how the systems operate.

Cedric Goodhouse of the Standing Rock Tribe and Lawrence Richards of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation connect wiring on a donated Magnum inverter.  Photo by Dave Bowden

For example, I learned that the PV panel converts solar energy into electrical energy; the charge controller regulates the amount of charge going in/out of the battery, and the inverter changes DC current to AC current and vice versa. Within a week, I had advanced from stripping wires to wiring components.

One merely has to look around, read some news, and watch a little television to understand there is a dire need for sources of clean energy. This innovative technology is affordable and can be applied as a method to reduce energy consumption from the grid and encourage self-sufficiency through renewable energy.

To learn more about the events and workshops of Trees, Water & People, or how to get involved, please sign up for our monthly newsletter.

sign-up-here

Celebrating World Water Day Every Day!

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director 

World Water Day is an important day in a long list of significant calendar dates, sharing the same week with International Day of Happiness, International Day of Forests, and The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. For those organizations that work with water, we know how critical it truly is as an element and necessity of all life on this planet. “Agua es vida, or water is life;” that simple yet profound phrase is uttered in communities across the Americas that have less water than most. It’s a statement and a refrain that captures the full awareness of the delicate nature of life and our total dependence on this one element.

At Trees, Water & People, we seek to expand on that awareness through programs that support enhanced water access in communities throughout Central America and the US. This year in Central America, our efforts with water will focus on rainwater catchment tanks in the Cordillera (mountain range) de Montecillos in the highlands of central Honduras. Our local counterparts, CEASO (Center for Teaching and Learning Sustainable Agriculture) were assisted by several TWP work trip participants this past January. CEASO’s philosophy towards water is holistic and profound; they see the importance of the forests, the soil, and the other elements existing in a balanced cycle that keeps our natural world healthy and able to support rural communities.

Rainwater tank
Work tour participants worked together with CEASO to complete a rainwater catchment tank!

In El Salvador, a country ravaged by deforestation, our counterparts at Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo diligently work to keep their nursery humming with new plants, which will go towards diversifying a smallholder plot or anchoring trees and their roots to a critical watershed. In Guatemala, our partners at Utz Che look to build rural resilience and increased access to water for marginalized indigenous and campesino communities in all of the geographic zones of the country.

La Bendición, our special exchange community that has hosted two recent TWP work trips, seeks to find solutions for their water woes by capitalizing on the old coffee plantation infrastructure that they hope can be transformed to provide the community with more robust water security during the dry season. Here in Managua, work continues at NICFEC, the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy, and Climate, which will serve as a demonstration center for best practices and methods to maximize water conservation and soil management for sustainable agriculture in a changing environment that is projected to see fewer rains in the future.

La Bendición
Community members of La Bendición working to repair old coffee plantation infrastructure to increase their water security.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the region, there are additional stark reminders of the critical importance of water. México City continues to sink due to continued overdrawing of its aquifers, the number of planned resorts for Costa Rica´s booming Guanacaste region is in jeopardy due to a lack of available water, and here in Nicaragua, the land of the large freshwater lakes, many communities south of Managua face an acute shortage of water and virtual dependence on water distribution trucks.

In the United States, TWP stands with the Water Protectors of Standing Rock in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Over this past winter, we provided off-grid solar heaters and generators to provide warmth and energy to the protest camps. These camps are the frontline resistance in a struggle for critical water and natural resource sovereignty. All of our strategic partners are focused on water, and we at TWP are striving to find ways to boost our water-related projects as we continue to hear how critically important it is for the survival of our communities.

Examples abound across the globe, and these stories of water stress are reminders that we must continue to focus our efforts on conservation, education, and innovation to stem the looming water crisis. If you would like to support these Central American communities protect and improve their water resources, please donate today!

Give here

Notes from the Field: Summer Update from Tribal Lands

Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE) and Trees, Water & People (TWP) are continuing our efforts to help Native American communities move towards energy independence. This week we are conducting a solar air heater workshop and installing ten solar air heating systems for the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe in northeast South Dakota. The training is teaching twelve tribal members about the uses of solar energy and how to install the energy saving solar heating systems. These solar heaters push the number of total systems the LSE/TWP team has built and installed for tribal families to more than 1,000 systems. Additionally, the vast majority of these systems made at the LSE manufacturing facility at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

FullSizeRender
Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe members installing a solar air heater during a training with Lakota Solar Enterprises and Trees, Water & People.

 

It is also the first major installation of our new Off-Grid Solar Heaters, which now operate solely on solar power! Heat is provided even if the grid goes off, as it is apt to do all across Native American Reservations. After this training is completed, the tribe has discussed getting 21 more systems and will use their trained workforce to get them installed.

Next, LSE will be taking down the old defunct wind turbine tower at the Kili Radio Station on Pine Ridge. Friends will install a new 10 kW Bergey wind turbine there in September, and a bit later Henry and the LSE crew will install another 6 kW solar electric array. A few years ago LSE installed a 5 kW solar electric array there, as well as one of their solar air heaters. Together, this should reduce the Radio stationed huge electric and heating bills by more than half.

IMG_0550 - Copy
Henry Red Cloud (left) leads a solar panel installation training at the Kili Radio Station in 2013.

Training and demonstrations like these are possible because of you, our supporters! Your contribution helps build job skills for Native Americans while also reducing CO2 emissions. Please donate today to keep programs like these going into the future.

donate button

Partner Spotlight: NARF Offsets Annual Carbon Footprint

by Megan Maiolo-Heath, Marketing Manager

NARF2013offset

The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) provides legal representation and technical assistance to Indian tribes, organizations and individuals nationwide. Throughout its history, NARF has impacted tens of thousands of Indian people in its work for more than 250 tribes. In addition to their critical contributions to the area of Indian law, NARF is also very dedicated to environmental sustainability.

As staff members David Selden and Rose Cuny write, “NARF is committed to environmental sustainability through its mission, work and organizational values. Native Americans and other indigenous peoples have a long tradition of living sustainably with the natural world by understanding the importance of preserving natural resources and respecting the interdependence of all living things. NARF embraces this tradition through its work and by instituting sustainable office practices that reduce our negative impact on our climate and environment.” 

Recently, NARF offset their 2013 carbon footprint – 460 tons of CO2 – by contributing to the building of 16 solar air heaters for Native American families. Over their 20 year lifespans, these solar heaters will each prevent a total of 28 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. In addition, each heater will reduce a family’s monthly heating bill by 20-30%. This donation reflects NARF’s commitment to environmental sustainability by reducing their impact on our climate and environment.

NARF offsets
NARF Offsets 2007-2013

Thank you NARF for your commitment to environmental sustainability and Native American communities!

Photo of the Week: Solar Heating for Rural Native American Families

solar air heater Pine Ridge Reservation

About this photo

Henry Red Cloud, Tribal Renewable Energy Program partner and owner of Lakota Solar Enterprises, stands with Joe Yellow Hawk, an Oglala Lakota who lives near Kyle on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Yesterday, Henry and seven trainees from three different tribes (Crow Creek, Eastern Shoshone, and Navajo) installed a new solar air heater for Joe and his family as part of a 5-day training.

Joe’s family is currently dependent on wood and very expensive propane to heat their home. This new solar heater will harness the power of the sun to heat the families’ home, saving 30-40% on heating expenses every month for the next 20 years!

To learn more about the Tribal Renewable Energy Program and our solar heating systems please visit our website.

 

Studies Abroad for Global Education (SAGE) Offsets Student Travel

SAGE logo

Studies Abroad for Global Education (SAGE) is one of those organizations that stands out among the pack!  SAGE not only provides high-quality study abroad programs to youth and educators, they also take great care in running a sustainable travel business that respects Mother Earth.

SAGE and Trees, Water & People (TWP) have partnered in several capacities over the years, including leading a volunteer work trip to Honduras in 2011. Now, as part of SAGE’s commitment to sustainable and responsible travel, all of SAGE’s students have the ability to offset their travel carbon footprint. For every offset made, SAGE matches it dollar-for-dollar through TWP’s Carbon Offset Program!

To date, SAGE has matched 298.5 tons of carbon offsets, supporting the construction of solar air heating systems on Native American reservations of the U.S. that greatly reduce heating bills for families in need while reducing green house gas emissions that lead to climate change. Thanks to SAGE, we are able to help communities reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and make the transition towards clean, renewable alternatives like solar.

To learn more about SAGE and their sustainability initiatives please visit http://www.sageprogram.org/about/sustainability

solar heating system
A solar heating system is installed on a new straw bale home at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home of the Oglala Lakota Tribe.

Tribal Renewable Energy Program: 2012 Impact

Trees, Water & People’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program puts the power of nature — the warmth of the sun, the power of the wind, the shelter of trees — to work for Native Americans. Working with reservation communities, TWP builds and installs supplemental solar air heaters for families in need and provides green job training to tribes around the country. These solutions are sustainable, economically beneficial, environmentally friendly, and celebrate the Native Americans’ respect for Mother Earth.

In 2012, we were able to make a big impact on the tribal lands where we work. Thanks to our generous supporters, more than 600 people are staying warm this winter with solar air heating systems. In addition, we are training more “Solar Warriors” who now have the knowledge to build and install solar heating systems within their reservation communities, helping to spread renewable energy throughout the tribal lands of the U.S.

Tribal Renewable Energy Program Impact 2012