Members of the Native Sun team were on hand to celebrate with the Prairie Island Indian Community (PIIC) as they held an open house to showcase the progress on their “Net Zero Project” on Thursday, September 21.  In addition to Lisa Daniels, Sarah LaVallie, Keiko Miller, and Native Sun board member Ralph Jacobson, state and local officials, Tribal Council members, partners, community members, and other distinguished guests gathered at the site of the still-under-construction solar field as Prairie Island Tribal President Johnny Johnson provided updates and highlights about the overall project.

     

Tribal Council President Johnson highlighted the importance of making energy a positive story for the community and the next generation, as well as how the project is a key part of their community’s journey towards energy sovereignty.  The goal of the Net Zero project is to eliminate, remove, or offset all carbon emissions by the tribe and its enterprises.  Rather than pursuing carbon offsets that shift the burden to others, the project has prioritized on-site projects that directly reduce carbon emissions. 

Net Zero Project initiatives include:

  • Deployment of a 5.4 MW solar field, with 21 acres of native prairie restoration
  • Conversion of tribal facilities, including Treasure Island Resort & Casino, from natural gas to geothermal energy
  • Energy audits and home improvements on tribal residences
  • Transition of gasoline-powered Tribal vehicles to electric vehicles

In addition to the climate benefits and movement towards energy sovereignty, the Net Zero project provides direct benefits. These include workforce development and employment opportunities, cost-savings to tribal members through increased efficiency, knowledge sharing across the community, and a reflection of traditional community values.

   

Native Sun’s Executive Director, Bob Blake, and his Solar Bear installation company, served as a key partner with PIIC’s Net Zero project. Solar Bear not only provided training and support for tribal community members to develop the skills to help build the solar array, but also connected the contractor with locally built modules (solar panels).

In addition to remarks from Tribal Council President Johnson and Energy Program Manager Andrea Zimmerman, guests in attendance heard from Karl von Knoblesdorff, president of Knoblesdorff Enterprises, (Engineering, Procurement, & Construction Contractor). Knoblesdorff highlighted their commitment to recognizing and respecting community values throughout the project. This included workforce development with tribal community members, reclaiming “nuisance waste land” for solar field, and leveraging local companies for products and expertise.  He especially thanked Bob Blake and Ralph Johnson for their partnership and support.

Following the formal presentation, the Native Sun team mingled and networked with other project partners, and then had the great fortune to tour PIIC’s Tatanka project and see bison close up…from the safety of a specially-outfitted vehicle. President Johnson served as guide and storyteller, communicating the longstanding cultural importance of the bison to the community and detailing their work to rebuild the decimated herds by raising and sharing their tatanka with other tribal communities.

Native Sun team members also had the opportunity to see the in-progress solar array up close. The 5.4 MW ground-mounted system, located near Prairie Island’s Treasure Island Resort & Casino, serves as a major step towards Prairie Island’s goals of becoming one of the first Tribal Nations to achieve net zero carbon emissions and become a leader in decarbonization. 

To learn more about PIIC’s Net Zero project, visit their website

To learn more about Solar Bear’s work on the PIIC solar project, check out a recent story on it from Minnesota Public Radio