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An Anadarko-based American Indian tribe unveiled a solar energy project on Wednesday that tribal officials said would save it thousands of dollars and could lead to new jobs coming to southwestern Oklahoma.
The construction of the 37.5-kilowatt solar array on the roof of the Delaware Nation's complex north of Anadarko will supply 30 percent of the complex's electricity, tribal President Kerry Holton said. The solar array should be finished by next month and a sign already hangs outside the headquarters building that reads "These buildings are powered by the sun."
To pay for the project, the Delaware Nation received a $250,000 federal grant from stimulus funds and Holton said the tribe matched that amount. He said the tribe will recoup its costs within five to eight years.
The tribe also has started manufacturing LED lights at a plant in Anadarko and could branch out into assembling modules for solar arrays in the near future, Holton said.
"Green technology is the wave of the future and it certainly fits in with our culture. We might as well embrace that and make it a part of our economic development," Holton said.
Kylah McNabb, a renewable energy specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, worked with the Delaware Nation on obtaining the grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. McNabb said it's thought to be the first major solar energy project started by a state-based tribe.
"This project truly has the potential to set an example for Oklahoma, to set an example for the other tribes about what can be done when you take a focus on green initiatives and really put your mind to it. This is a technology that works," she said.
Holton became the president of the 1,500-member tribe -- which has its roots in the mid-Atlantic Delaware River lands -- in 2006. In 2008, the tribe began working on an economic development plan, from which sprang an initiative focusing on renewable energy. The tribe hoped to use the focus on renewable energy to generate jobs in Anadarko, a city that bills itself as "Indian City USA."
While other Oklahoma tribes have focused on wind-energy projects in recent years, Holton said the Delaware Nation wanted to wait until wind technology had developed further to do that. He said the tribe also has looked into geothermal energy and the Delawares have both geothermal and wind projects in the future.
But for now, the tribe's focus will be on using solar power and installing LED, or light-emitting diode, lighting in its buildings. Steven Jenson, the president and CEO of tribal-operated Lenape Lighting and Manufacturing, said using LED lights would reduce energy use by more than 57 percent over conventional lighting.
"The idea is to get the best of both worlds -- which is to produce additional power as well as using less power at the same time," said Bob Magyar, the managing director at another tribal-owned business, Trenton, N.J.-based Unami Solar LLC, a solar power developer.
Sandy, Utah-based Lenape Lighting and Manufacturing specializes in LED lighting. Some of those lighting products now are being manufactured at an Anadarko plant, where Holton said about 12 people now work, with projections that number will rise to 100 within a year.
Escondido, Calif.-based Eco One Energy LLC built the solar array for the tribe and Holton said talks are under way for the tribe to begin assembling solar array parts for the company, although he didn't know when that might happen.
Patricia St. Germain, a Golden, Colo.-based project officer with the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Programs, said it's gratifying to see firsthand how the tribe was using the federal stimulus money. She said the goal of the program was to encourage the use of renewable energy, such as solar power.
"It's very exciting and it's very diverse and it's a remarkable thing, but it's here in the hearts and the minds of the people in these locations where the work is really done. ... This money is not being wasted. It's being profoundly monitored. It's being highly regulated. When it finally hits the ground and it finally goes to work, it creates entirely new worlds. Energy connects hearts and communities and dreams. It's magic," St. Germain said.