Leech Lake Celebrates First Solar Project To Benefit Low-Income Families
The only solar energy project in the entire United States to benefit the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is up and running on the Leech Lake Reservation.
The many tribal, environmental and community engagement groups involved during the process are coming together to turn on the solar array. The site behind the Prescott Community Center is one of five on the reservation. In total, the nearly half a million dollar project is considered a long term investment.
“We can permanently address energy poverty by delivering solar energy directly to low-income communities,” said Jason Edens, the director of Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL).
Last year, Leech Lake Reservation Energy Assistance help pay off the energy bills of nearly 1,000 families in Beltrami, Cass, Hubbard and Itasca counties.
“Our energy assistance isn’t able to cover everyone that requests energy assistance, especially if it’s a bad year,” said Brandy Toft, the environmental deputy director for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.
The installations will power an additional 100 homes for low-income families who may have to decide to pay one bill over another.
“The heating season can be a period of dread, anxiety – ‘how am going to ensure I can keep my house warm of my children?'” explained Edens to the crowd.
The installation is also providing for those who worked on it. The Initiative Foundation from Little Falls helped three students at Leech Lake Tribal College receive the necessary license to build the structures.
“Anytime we can help somebody develop the skills so that they can be economically self-sufficient and give back to their community, you’re having a good day,” said Don Hickman, the vice president of Workforce and Community Development at the Initiative Foundation.
The organizations hope that this lays the ground work for others to save some green while going green.
“RREAL has really provided a really groundbreaking project that’s exciting to hopefully see replicated not only here but across the country,” said Anna Carlson, the Northwest Regional Coordinator for Clean Energy Resource Teams.