Solar projects in the Navajo & Hopi nations to electrify homes win federal funding –

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Two projects in Arizona have been
preliminarily selected as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s
funding for community-driven energy projects aimed at lowering energy
costs and enhancing energy security in rural and remote communities
across the nation. 

The DOE announced more than $366 million this month in funding
for 17 projects in 20 states and 30 tribal nations and communities.
According to the DOE, the projects focus on accelerating clean energy
deployment nationwide in rural and remote areas.

The two Arizona projects selected
focus on providing electrical help within Indigenous communities by
providing services to the Hopi and Navajo nations.

One project, led by Native Renewables, Inc., focuses on energizing rural Hopi and Navajo homes using solar-powered battery-based systems. 

The project plans to electrify 300
homes on the Hopi and Navajo nations by installing 2.5 kW off-grid solar
and battery storage systems. The goal is to enhance energy resilience
and increase electrification rates within the community. 

Chelsea Chee, the deputy director of
Native Renewables, said this is the first time the organization has
applied for a large grant, and they’re grateful for the recognition from
the Department of Energy for the work they’ve been doing.

“We got a lot of support letters for this proposal,” she said, adding they’re ready to get to work. 

Native Renewables project proposal
seeks $8 million in funding to help install 300 solar photovoltaic and
battery storage systems in off-grid homes across the Hopi and Navajo

“The work we do is really important
because it’s cost-effective and for a lot of the homes on Hopi and
Navajo that don’t have electricity,” Chee said.

About 21% of homes on the Navajo Nation and 35% of homes on the Hopi Nation do not have access to electricity, according to a 2023 report by the DOE’s Office of Indian Energy. Of the electrified homes within tribal communities, 31% reported monthly outages. 

Chee said another reason many homes
on the Hopi and Navajo Nations have gone without electricity may be that
connecting them to the electrical grid is expensive.

Electrifying one household on the
Navajo Nation is an expensive endeavor because, on average, each
household requires one transformer, 0.6 miles of wire, nine poles, 16
insulators, and two arrestors to connect to the electric grid, according to Salt River Project. The average cost is around $5,500.

Chee said that their team sees the costs of getting connected to the grid through the tribe, and they want to be able to help. 

“We want to help create solutions and grow solutions,” she added.

Through the Hozho Homes Program, Chee
said that their team does not have to extend utility lines or add
eclectic poles to connect the homes to electricity. 

“We want to work with the ones that are really far from the utility line,” she said.

Chee said it only takes their team
showing up with their truck and trailer full of material to install
their solar system in one day, and by the end of it, the family will
have electricity.

The grant funding will allow them to help 300 more people.

Chee said her company’s work for the
Hopi and Navajo Nation involves providing and installing donated
off-the-grid solar photovoltaic systems.

Since the solar systems are donated,
the families selected for installation do not have to pay a monthly
payment and there is no initial cost. 

“That’s part of this program,” she added.

The work is done through the Hozho
Homes Program, Chee said, and their team has been able to install 72
systems since it launched in 2016. 

“We really educate our families to
know their limits,” she said, including conversing with families about
how the solar system works and how much electricity they could use at

“We encourage our families to really
watch and be careful about the amount of electricity they’re using,”
Chee added, and they work with the families to figure out what they can
and cannot do with the systems. 

One of the biggest things for
families to know, she explained, is that they cannot run large
appliances, such as air conditioning units or refrigerators, with the

“We standardize the system and the
design because we want to help as many people as we can, and it’s more
cost-effective at the moment,” she added.

The homes are also equipped with a
battery system that stores energy when the sun is not shining, allowing
families to use the power when needed.

One of the installations done for the
Hozho Homes Program was at a Hopi woman’s home, Chee said, and she
shared with the team how she never thought she would get electricity. 

“When we were able to help her. She
was surprised, happy and thankful at the same time,” Chee said, because
she finally got electricity for her children and grandchildren. 

Many homes on the Hopi and Navajo
Nation are multi-generational, so when one household gets electricity,
it helps everyone in the area because it allows the families to stay on
the same land as their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

“When our installers come back, they
tell stories of how it’s just beautiful to see families who didn’t have
electricity one day be able to turn on the lights after we install
them,” Chee said. 

The potential funding from the
Department of Energy grant would be able to provide job security for
their team at Native Renewables for the next five years, as well as help
them install at least 300 solar systems for Navajo and Hopi homes, Chee

“We want to grow and build an
Indigenous renewable energy workforce,” she said, and it will provide a
way for them to educate their workforce and the families they help.

The projects selected for potential funding are part of DOE’s Energy Improvements in Rural or Remote Areas program, which is headed by the DOE Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations

Before funding is issued, the DOE
states that the selected projects will undergo a negotiation process,
and the DOE may cancel negotiations or rescind the selection for any
reason during that time. 

The funding announcement did not include details about the length of the negotiations, but the next steps include the DOE co-hosting four virtual community-level briefings to provide information on the selected projects in the respective region.

Arizona State University is leading
the other project selected in Arizona. According to the DOE, the Hopi
Nation Community Solar Project focuses on providing a microgrid, solar
photovoltaic and battery storage system with optimized backup diesel

The project stated that the aging
power infrastructure at the Turquoise Trail Municipal Complex on the
Hopi Nation has limited building operations to 12 hours per day for five
days a week. These limitations have left the Hopi Nation vulnerable to
emergencies and lacking critical services during off-hours.

The Hopi Nation Community Solar
Project is requesting $9.1 million in funding, according to the DOE, and
the project plans to employ up to 19 local workers for temporary
construction jobs, up to 12 newly trained solar/microgrid construction
workers, and one long-term microgrid manager.

The funding for the projectes, made
possible through President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,
will support various community-driven energy projects in rural and
remote regions. 

“President Biden firmly believes that
every community should benefit from the nation’s historic transition to
a clean energy future, especially those in rural and remote areas,”
U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a press release.

According to the department, rural
and remote communities face unique energy challenges due to their
smaller populations and isolation from larger electrical systems. Some
of the challenges these communities face include higher electric bills,
unreliable energy supplies or no access at all to electricity. 

“Thanks to the President’s Investing
in America agenda, DOE is helping revitalize communities across America —
ensuring thriving businesses, reliable access to clean energy, and
exciting new economic opportunities, now and for generations to come,”
Granholm said.

At least 12 projects approved for award negotiation support Tribal communities, according to the department. The DOE website provides more details about all the projects.

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