Students from the United Tribes Technical College’s Environmental Science program were present for the installation of a solar heating panel at one of the college’s family housing units.
Two environmental organizations, Honor The Earth of Minneapolis, MN, and Trees, Water, and People of Fort Collins, CO, were involved in the demonstration in renewable energy.
“United Tribes is a good place for one of these,” says Winona LaDuke (White Earth Anishinaabe), who is an environmentalist, economist, writer, and Honor the Earth founder. “UTTC is an institution that has the potential to be a model of sustainability. The college can demonstrate solar and wind technology and help train people from all of the reservations in North Dakota.”
The unit was built and installed by Henry Red Cloud of Lakota Solar Enterprises, Pine Ridge, SD. The design utilizes modern building materials that are commercially available. Sealed inside each panel made by Red Cloud at his workshop in Pine Ridge is a 4 by 8 foot sheet of black chrome, which is ultra efficient at absorbing heat from the sun’s rays.
According to Richard Fox, national director for Trees, Water, and People, each unit will produce a minimum monthly savings of 25% on heating costs fueled by natural gas.
“We primarily are working to develop the expertise in renewable energy in Native American communities,” says Fox. “So the college is certainly an integral part of that.” Since beginning in 2006, Lakota Solar Enterprises has installed 175 panels at houses on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations in South Dakota.
Before Red Cloud finished installing the UTTC panel, it was already at work, billowing heat from a rear port. A quick check with a remote thermometer showed the 63 degree outside air had warmed to 144 degrees.
Each unit is constructed facing south adjacent to a house – not on it – and uses a small electric blower attached to flexible duct-work to bring the sun-warmed air directly into the living room.
“I thought it was really something,” says Mike Matheny, director of UTTC’s Construction Technology Program. “I like the whole concept. Low cost and easy to install.”
Matheny expressed interest in having students in his program receive training in how to do the installation. United Tribes has 47 individual family houses on its campus on the edge of Bismarck. According to Matheny, there will be more discussions at UTTC about using alternative energy on campus, including possibly constructing a wind energy demonstration unit and a solar heated house.
Honor The Earth predicts that Turtle Mountain Community College, Belcourt, ND, soon will be the first “off-grid” college campus in the country, using geothermal and wind energy (see TCJ, Vole 17, No.2). In 2003, the first Native-owned utility-scale wind turbine was installed on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.
“Basically Native nations can either participate in the last energy economy – where we combust ourselves into oblivion,” wrote LaDuke in an Honor the Earth publication. “Or we can participate in the next energy economy – where we look out for those generations ahead and make sound economic and environmental decisions, choices that better reflect our traditional values and protect our lands.”
LaDuke promotes solar heating as a cost effective alternative for tribes to help pay the monthly heating costs of low income members. “When it comes to fuel assistance, at what point do we have efficiency?” she says. “Why continue to invest in the rising cost of heating fuels when you can provide long term supplemental heat with one of these?”