Solar Energy as a Tool for Community Empowerment at Red Lake

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Oshkiimaajitahdah home to one of the largest solar projects in Northern Minnesota

Red Lake, MN – October 6, 2020 – One of Northern Minnesota’s largest solar projects continues this fall with the second of twelve planned commercial-scale installations. 

In February of 2016, Red Lake Tribal leaders announced plans to begin a solar project capable of powering every casino and government building, in addition to the Red Lake Nation College campus. Payback for solar has a special meaning here: saving their commercial fishery from irreparable damage, as they monitor the slow increase of mercury levels in local lakes, from coal-burning power plants 1,000 miles to the west.

When corporate financing fell through, Ralph Jacobson of Impact Power Solutions worked with Tribal leaders to create an alternative financing plan by leveraging crowdfunding. Bob Blake of Solar Bear assembled a crew of Tribal members to install the first solar array on the Red Lake Government Center in 2018.

Building on that success, fundraising for the Oshkiimaajitahdah (workforce development center) solar array was completed in June. In September, Solar Bear began construction on the workforce development center. At 240 kilowatts -- it's one of the largest solar projects in Northern Minnesota. The project is not only capable of drastically reducing the tribe’s energy expenses, it will also offset C02 emissions by roughly 445,334 lbs.* per year. Additionally, the solar array will provide job training, employment opportunities, and help alleviate other issues faced by the tribe.

With campus construction wrapping up soon, the next phase of the Red Lake Solar Project -- installing solar on four schools in the town of Ponemah -- is set to begin in 2021.

*Projected with “Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 15 Oct. 2018, www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator.

 “My vision is that The Red Lake Nation ends up as an owner of all these solar + storage power systems on their building fleet. As the owner, they are going to have a tremendous asset,” said Ralph Jacobson, Chief Justice, Equity, and Inclusion Officer for Impact Power Solutions. “This is a resource that other communities are going to need, so it moves the community into a leadership role in moving away from coal in northern Minnesota,” said Jacobson.

“My hope, my dream for Red Lake is for this to be a model for other tribes to follow,” said Bob Blake, owner of Solar Bear and Executive Director of Native Sun Community Power Development.“What's really exciting about all this is that our people can go ahead and get the knowledge around this technology and be a part of this new renewable energy green deal that's going to be happening. I feel like renewable energy is going to be this driver of change and prosperity in ways that tribal nations have never seen before,” he adds.

“When you give people purpose, when you give people the ability to get up and do something that they love every day, I  think that's how you battle alcoholism, I think that's how you battle a drug addiction, I think that's how you battle missing murdered indigenous women,” Blake adds. 

“The Red Lake Solar Project exemplifies how clean energy can strengthen economies by not only providing workforce development skills and creating jobs -- but by allowing communities to become energy independent. It was an honor to interview Red Lake Nation Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki and learn about the project first-hand. We look forward to following the progress on this innovative project, and helping share their story with more Minnesotans to show what clean energy can make possible,” said Amelia Cerling Hennes, Director of Communications and Public Affairs for Clean Energy Economy MN.

The video and story of this project are available on Clean Energy Economy MN’s website: URL LINK

Later this month, there will be an online video showing, followed by a live Q & A session with the project’s key stakeholders. Join them October 21, 2020 at 11AM online via Zoom. You can register for free at the following URL: bit.ly/2Gnan0g.

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About Clean Energy Economy MN (CEEM): CEEM is an industry-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit representing the business case for clean energy in Minnesota. CEEM provides a unified voice for clean energy business across the state. Our mission is to provide educational leadership, collaboration, and policy analysis that accelerates clean energy market growth and smart energy policies.

About Impact Power Solutions (IPS): IPS is a full-service clean energy development company. For over 30 years, we have worked to deliver customers solutions ranging from rooftop arrays to multi-megawatt community solar gardens. We take a full spectrum approach to renewable development, benefiting communities and organizations nationwide.