Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs

Community Solar to Meet 100% of Energy Costs for New Mexico Tribe

January 11, 2018

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Picuris Pueblo solar array.
The $2.2 million community solar array will generate 2.6 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year for the Picuris Pueblo. Photo from the Northern Pueblos Housing Authority

Demonstrating the Tribe’s dedication to energy independence and sustainable development, on Dec. 18, 2017, the Picuris Pueblo of New Mexico celebrated the completion of a new 1-megawatt (MW) community solar photovoltaic (PV) array that will offset 100% of the cost of the energy currently used by the tribal buildings and residences on the Picuris trust land.

The Northern Pueblos Housing Authority (NPHA) broke ground on the project in April after partnering with the Picuris Pueblo to secure a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Indian Energy in 2016, with the Tribe contributing $1.2 million in cost share. NPHA is a tribally designated housing entity that provides housing and community development services to the Tribe and acted on the Tribe’s behalf to develop the solar array.

People sitting in chairs alongside fence and solar arrays.
Community members joined project officials, administrators, and tribal leaders at the December 18 ribbon-cutting celebration for the Picuris Pueblo community solar array. Photo from DOE

The project marks the culmination of several years of progress toward the Tribe’s target of 100% renewable energy production on the Pueblo. In 2014, the Office of Indian Energy led a strategic energy planning workshop for Picuris to help the tribe develop its energy vision as well as a plan for achieving it. One of the strategic goals that came out of that workshop was to “encourage energy independence through self-generating clean energy, which demonstrates initiative and models innovative green leadership.”

In 2015, the Picuris Pueblo made strides toward that goal by building the Tribe’s first net-zero energy building, a solar-powered fire station, and renovating their gymnasium with the help of the Office of Indian Energy's Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START), a competitive program for long-term technical assistance support. Through START, the Picuris Pueblo also participated in a 2016 solar operations and maintenance training led by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and GRID Alternatives to gain hands-on experience with solar tools, equipment, and system components. These activities laid the groundwork for the next step in the vision: the installation of the new ground-mounted solar array, which is sited on 6 acres of tribal trust land and will generate an estimated 2.6 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year from approximately 3,800 PV panels.

“Working on this solar project with DOE and the rest of the team in creating self-sustainable energy for Picuris Pueblo will allow us to continue to flourish as a pueblo in Northern New Mexico,” said Picuris Pueblo Governor Craig Quanchello.

Two men stand in front of solar array.
Kit Carson Electric Cooperative Chief Executive Officer Luis Reyes (left) and Picuris Pueblo Governor Craig Quanchello collaborated with Northern Pueblos Housing Authority on the project. Photo from Kit Carson Electric Cooperative

Kit Carson Electric Cooperative negotiated a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with the Pueblo to acquire all the energy produced by the project and provide the Pueblo with interconnection to the grid—a financial structure that promises to bring economic gain to the Tribe. With about 300 members and nearly 17,000 acres of forested land in a valley in southern Taos County, Picuris is the smallest, most isolated, and poorest of New Mexico's 19 pueblo tribes, and has an unemployment rate of around 40%. The majority of the revenue from the PPA will accrue to the Picuris Pueblo over the 25-year life of the project, to offset the cost of the total energy load of the Pueblo. The project developer Osceola Energy will also train Picuris employees to operate and maintain the system, providing jobs and continuing to build the tribal energy workforce.

“Working with the DOE Office of Indian Energy, their staff, and the staff at NREL during the development of the project and throughout the construction phase of the 1-MW solar array for Picuris Pueblo was a true testament to teamwork, and a partnership that I would gladly do again in a heartbeat,” said Jon Paul Romero, Executive Director of NPHA.

Learn more about the Northern Pueblos Housing Authority and Picuris Pueblo solar project.