Towaoc Community Solar Project

In 2017, the Tribe was awarded a $989k grant from the Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy,, to cost-share the project with a contribution of up to $1.2m by the Tribe, using its Natural Resources A-LP settlement funds.  Partnering with GRID Alternatives’ Colorado Office,,  as the EPC contractor, the Tribe undertook the construction of a community solar project to offset the electrical needs and costs of the Towaoc Community.  Guided by a feasibility study also previously funded by the Department of Energy, the site selection was relatively simple- a flat agricultural field west of the Ute Mountain Casino Resort Enterprise,  The Tribe’s Farm and Ranch Enterprise,,  permanently fallowed the location for the project.  Working with GRID’s team a project design was engineered and procurement of equipment undertaken.  Construction started in earnest in April of 2019.  An important component of the project was workforce development.  Four interns were budgeted for the project, and 21 Tribal Members applied for the jobs!  Using some additional resources through the Tribe’s Higher Education and Temporary Worker programs, up to eleven interns received construction and solar PV training and worked to build the project side by side with GRID staff.   After a long awaited custom built transformer was installed, the project was commissioned in March of 2020.  It is currently in a one-year test phase per the terms of the DOE grant.  That will conclude on March 30, 2021. 

The project, which has 3648 photovoltaic panels on pile mounted ground racking, a 16 inverter string, a telemetry communication system, curtailment system, transformer and multiple meters occupies about 4 acres of land.  The Tribe purchased the Nuchu 1 circuit from Empire Electric as part of the project to be able to consolidate multiple large meter demands to receive the daytime power and create a billing, payment and bill crediting system that is mutually implemented.  As of January 1, 2021, the project had generated over 1.6 million KWh of electricity that was then converted, in partnership with Empire Electric Association,, credited to over 100 Towaoc residents who signed up for the program and dozens of Tribal Government electric meters.  The 1MW AC equivalent project represents 30-40% of the electrical demand of Towaoc.  Plans are underway to determine the next steps to offset more while complying with local and regional generation policies.