A New Energy on Tribal Lands

May 19, 2021

Worker who is making adjustments to solar panels

Native communities and lands have historically borne some of the worst impacts of fossil fuel development through the health damages associated with coal fired power plants, the destruction of fragile ecosystems and sacred sites, and of course, the impacts of climate change. When Indigenous peoples have a seat at the table to determine the highest use of their land – it is both for the betterment of their communities and the environment. Historically, this has not always been the case.

But things are changing, fast. As the saying goes, personnel is policy and the Biden-Harris administration has already begun to demonstrate its commitment to Indian Country with the appointment of Indigenous leaders to key posts in the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy to help oversee a just transition to a new clean energy economy. And of course, Secretary Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) is now leading the Interior Department, the first Native American cabinet member in U.S. history. 

As a solar company working hand in hand with Tribal communities to provide clean and affordable energy, we are heartened to see the administration following this path.

We are particularly proud and excited with the progress on our 383 MWdc (300MWac) Eagle Shadow Mountain project on the Moapa River Indian Reservation, which broke ground in August 2020. With the site prepped and modules being installed, we are on target to begin operations before the end of the year. Once online, Eagle Shadow Mountain will provide power to 250,000 people across Nevada.

All this would not be possible without our partner, the Moapa Band of Paiutes, who have been instrumental in accelerating the replacement of retired coal plants with renewable technology, all while protecting sacred cultural sites and maintaining the traditional connection to their land.

Even though solar is better for people and the planet, we are still energy developers and it’s incumbent upon us not to repeat the mistakes of “old energy” – development at all costs, the desecration of culturally significant artifacts and land, habitat destruction and environmental pollution. Collaboration and consultation with Native partners must come first, and is the bedrock of a just, equitable clean energy transition. When we are entrusted with projects like Eagle Shadow Mountain, we ensure that collaboration happens at every stage – from initial siting through permitting, construction and operation. The Moapa Band of Paiutes and key partners at the Bureau of Indian Affairs informed and supported all aspects of our work – providing indispensable knowledge about land use and energy development in the region. For our part, we held regular open meetings to learn how to best tailor our projects to the benefit and specific needs of the community. 8minute has remained committed to hiring Native workers and complied with tribal employment preference laws (TERO). We are proud that this project will generate up to 400 new jobs during the 18-month construction period, with 10 full-time employees upon plant completion. Tribal members hold the majority of these jobs to date and have also been hired to monitor ongoing environmental and cultural compliance. Additionally, we are sourcing aggregate materials and other raw materials from the Tribal community.

We design every project to avoid or minimize potential impacts to native species so they can continue to thrive. At Eagle Shadow Mountain, we are going a step further to implement a novel solution to protect the threatened Mojave desert tortoise, and are leading a longer-term study to understand the movement of this species to see if our approach can apply to future projects. Specifically, 8minute collaborated with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Tribe to maintain critical habitat during construction, employ a permeable fence around the entirety of the project’s perimeter to allow desert tortoise to reinhabit the site once operations begin, and to fund a long-term study evaluating the livability of the site by desert tortoise.

Our work with the Moapa Band of Paiutes, along with NV Energy and Capital Dynamics on Eagle Shadow Mountain, is just the start of a long-term partnership that will continue with the Southern Bighorn Solar & Storage Center, a 300MWac solar array with 540 MWh of storage. Southern Bighorn stands to be the largest integrated solar and storage projects ever constructed on Tribal lands.

“We are excited for this project Southern Bighorn to commence. This is our third solar site on the reservation and will continue economic development for our Tribe. This project is going to help us create a better situation for the sustainability of our people and our Tribal lands. Our future is beginning to look brighter after many years of hard work and dedication. We want to thank all the partners who are involved and their continued support,”

Laura Perry

Chairwomen for the Moapa Band of Paiutes

There is vast solar potential on Tribal lands and with it comes the opportunity to fight climate change, which disproportionately affects Native communities; the opportunity to drive diverse economic growth in Indian country; and the opportunity to bring clean energy benefits to communities that have too often endured the worst consequences of fossil fuel production. Together, we will continue decarbonizing our country’s power grid while ensuring all communities are part of unlocking the full potential of clean energy.

Published by

Jason A Moretz, Ph.D., PMP

Vice President, Development at Avantus

Jason has over 18 years of experience permitting, developing, and managing renewable projects. Land use entitlement lead for southeast and southwest regions which includes a pipeline of over 5 GW in various stages of development throughout Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and received his Ph.D. from Ohio University, Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees from Winthrop University.