The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of southwestern Colorado is in the process of building a one-megawatt solar array, offsetting at least 10% of their reservation’s energy usage. Tribal lands are thought to be excellent spots for wind and solar projects, as they are remote, have access to the grid, and hold a lot of wind and sun capacity. Desert tribal lands, in particular, have a high solar capacity and are previously undeveloped, because they were thought to have no value when Native Americans were forced onto them. Now, though, these lands could hold the key to tribes’ economic futures.
The Ute Mountain Utes see the possibility of expanding their current project into something that could generate electricity on a larger scale, bringing their power to the national market, making money, and providing on-reservation jobs. Their current project is providing 13 construction jobs, including training in solar construction.
Because tribes act as sovereign nations, they typically don’t have the bureaucratic woes that come with trying to develop projects on public lands. That said, tribes are eligible for special grants from the Department of Energy that can help them match funds raised for projects. The array on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation was funded by a $1 million investment from the tribe, with a matching grant from the DoE.