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.

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Mobile Power Station Workshop: Creating Energy Independence for Native American Communities

by Art Rave, Mobile Power Station Workshop participant 

I recently attended a mobile solar workshop at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. The amount of information and the training I received at the center was wholeheartedly impressive. During the first few hours of the workshop, I started to learn the basics of solar energy and how solar energy systems work. Within the first few days of hands on training, I began to truly understand how the solar power energy systems operate. On last day of the workshop, I was ready to take all that I learned back to my community on the Cheyenne River Reservation and begin promoting the absolute necessity of solar energy.

Art Rave at Mobile Power Station workshop
Art Rave (left) receives hands-on wiring instruction by instructor Jason (right) of Remote Energy. Photo by Dave Bowden.

As a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, I understand first hand exactly what energy independence can mean to a struggling community. The vast diversity of organizations that partner with RCREC is a testament to the hard work and indomitable spirit of those at the center and the allies supporting it. Everyone was absolutely dedicated to the environment and sustainable energy. I was fortunate enough to have time to meet some awe-inspiring and dedicated individuals from Trees, Water & People. Their dedication to the environment is reflected by the hard work, devotion, and enthusiasm apparent in each of their employees. The solar energy instructors are an amazing group of educators with years of experience in the field. The passion they showed in helping our Native American communities is inspiring to all!

Carol and Art at Mobile Power Station Workshop
Instructor Carol (bottom center) teaches Art (front right) and the other workshop participants to read the labels on the back of a solar panel in order to connect it to the correct electrical system.

The solar energy instructors are an amazing group of educators with years of experience in the field. The passion they showed in helping our Native American communities is inspiring to all! Overall, what a great place to learn and share! The food, lodging, and staff were terrific! I cannot wait to attend another workshop with Henry and his amazing group of partners in renewable and sustainable energy!

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

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Notes from the Field: 10,000 Trees for the Pine Ridge Reservation

Pine trees for Pine Ridge
10,000 pine trees ready for planting on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

by Megan Maiolo-Heath, Marketing Manager

Over the 125 years that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has managed the Pine Ridge Reservation, they have provided almost zero management of the tribe’s forest resources. As a result, the pine forest has shrunk considerably and in many places there are no longer enough trees to guarantee sustainability of the forest. Through discussions with Oglala Lakota leadership and representatives of several local Pine Ridge organizations, serious concerns have been expressed about the condition and viability of the remaining forests.

Pine Ridge reforestation project
TWP staff look out over the reforestation area on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Due to our long history and success growing and planting tree seedlings around the world, we were asked to develop a tree planting project on the Pine Ridge Reservation. This new endeavor aims to replant the legendary pine ridges, while also engaging Native American youth in the restoration efforts.

To initiate this effort, we established a partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service, who used seeds from South Dakota to grow 10,000 ponderosa pine seedlings in their greenhouses. Over the winter, we worked with our local partners at Pine Ridge to identify and select specific tribal lands for our first reforestation project (about 17.5 acres in total). We also worked with these partners to recruit young members of the tribe who will work with us on this project.

pine seedlings Pine Ridge Reservation

A few weeks back, we moved the seedlings from the Colorado State Forest Service tree nursery in Fort Collins to our greenhouse at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. This was a long journey for the small seedlings, but they all made it safe and sound!

This past weekend, we had a group of volunteers join us to begin planting the 10,000 trees. The rains cleared long enough for 3,300 seedlings to get planted – the start of an important reforestation program for the Oglala Lakota Tribe! In the coming weeks, tribal members will finish planting the remaining pine trees, participating directly in the conservation and management of their local forests. More updates to come as these little trees mature and become an integral part of the Pine Ridge ecosystem!

Community Voices: Elmer Melton

by John Motley, National Program Assistant

John Motley and Elmer
Elmer Melton (left) and John Motley

Lately, we have had many firsts at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. In early February, we conducted our first ever Solar Hot Water Heater Training along with having our first trainee from an Alaskan tribe visit RCREC. With the frigid weather on the Great Plains making life hard for many Lakotas, there could be no better time to install a solar hot water heater, and we were happy to have a new friend from Alaska join us for the installation!

Elmer Melton is from the Noorvik Native Community in Noorvik, Alaska. We have worked with students from more than 20 different tribes but this is the first student we have hosted from Alaska. Elmer describes himself as “a miser in energy use” and has had experience with energy conservation programs in his community. He said he “would like to learn how to make hot water with renewable energy sources” so he can share this knowledge with his native community. With fuel costs being so high in his community, Elmer is eager to learn about clean, renewable energy alternatives.

solar hot water system
The control center of the solar hot water system inside the Sacred Earth Lodge.

The goal of the Solar Hot Water Heater Training was to install a solar hot water array that could be integrated into the radiant heating floor of the Sacred Earth Lodge. We used reclaimed panels from two homes in Boulder, Colorado. This new system will also serve as a hands-on demonstration site for future workshops. In addition to it’s educational value, the new system will provide the Sacred Earth Lodge with renewable heat from the sun, keeping our environmental impact and heating costs low.

Elmer
Elmer Melton installing the new solar hot water system

The benefit of radiant heat is that even when the sun goes down the heat trapped throughout the day is released into the thermal mass of the concrete floor which then slowly releases heat well into the night. This new addition will drastically reduce the lodge’s consumption of traditional energy sources like wood and electric. With our students and some local Pine Ridge residents, we completed the five panel solar hot water array with no problems. Completion couldn’t have come at a better time as Pine Ridge is now seeing some of its coldest temperatures of the year. But as long as the sun keeps shining, the lodge will stay warm and comfy even on the coldest of days!

Notes from the Field: Solar Heating at Sacred Earth Lodge

by Lacey Gaechter, National Director

Sacred Earth Lodge
Mother Nature shows her power in the night sky over Sacred Earth Lodge

After opening it’s doors to the public in late 2013, the Sacred Earth Lodge (SEL) has already hosted several groups and we look forward to hosting many more visitors and Native American trainees in 2014.

Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center
on-site solar and wind demos

This week, we will host our first Solar Hot Water Heater Training at the Sacred Earth Lodge. Once the new hot water system is in place, it will join our growing selection of on-site renewable energy demonstration units. Along with our existing solar air heaters, wind turbines, and grid-tied and battery-tied photovoltaic systems, we will now have a solar hot water system that can be taken apart and reassembled class after class. This equipment gives us the ability to do hands-on training, which is so important to the learning process and what makes our training program unique.

The hot water generated in this solar water system will be mixed with anti-freezing agents and circulated through a radiant heat floor to keep the building warm, using only the sun’s rays!

You can help support this important new clean energy system and contribute to SEL’s low impact, sustainable building design by visiting our fundraising project on Global Giving. Stay tuned for more updates about our Tribal Renewable Energy Program!

Notes from the Field: Native American Entrepreneurs Aspire to a Greener Future

native american business development training

by Lacey Gaechter, National Director

Today was the first day of our Native American Green Business Development Training – something that Trees, Water & People and I have been working toward for the last year. While the training is the continuation of a process we started in 2008 – giving Native American students the technical skills they need to enter the green job market – it is only the first step in our new Green Business Development Program. The next will be awarding one “Start-Up Assistance Scholarship” to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) student with the best application, which means we think he or she will have the best chance of succeeding in his or her environmental social enterprise. The fact that this training is only the start of us helping more Native Americans create livelihoods that benefit Mother Earth makes this week extremely special for me.

Yesterday we dove right into the training, going over the basics of a business plan, a mission statement, products and services, and the purpose of market research. It was so inspiring to hear of the students’ different aspirations for renewable energy, green building, and sustainable timber harvest businesses. Every single one of them focuses on the importance helping their people – creating jobs and improving lives through their businesses.

Henry Red Cloud
Henry Red Cloud shows students the solar PV system at RCREC.

We ended the day with a special guest lecture from one Mr. Henry Red Cloud, proprietor of Lakota Solar Enterprises. Henry talked to the students about what being a sole proprietor means to him and gave everyone an in-depth tour of the Red Cloud Renewable Energy, where there is plenty of fodder for the imagination, from solar panels to straw-bale houses and organic agriculture. After the tour, our long-time friend and frequent student Leo White Bear, had decided that he was going to build his own Compressed Earth Block machine, water his lawn with a passive-solar water pump, and sell solar water distillers as part of his business, Off the Grid. This is, of course in addition, to the 10 or so other products that Leo was already planning to offer.

One of my favorite moments of the day came when I asked Henry what the hardest part of being a business owner is, and he responded “bookkeeping!”  His favorite part about running Lakota Solar Enterprises: “Everything else!” I think he speaks for most of us!