December 12, 2012 | LXXII, No. 37

Colville Tribal officials unveil solar array

Colville Tribal officials on Friday unveiled a new solar array to power the Fish and Wildlife Program building near Omak and the Hearts Gathered immersive Salish language school.

Colville Business Council Chairman John Sirois cuts a ceremonial ribbon Friday to celebrate a new solar array working at the tribal campus at St. Mary’s Mission. — Scott Hunter photo

Located on the campus of buildings behind the Paschal Sherman Indian School at St. Mary’s Mission, the group of five towers each hold two panels that turn sunlight directly to electricity and feed it into Okanogan County PUD’s grid, when they’re actually producing. Friday’s snowy weather didn’t make for much of a demonstration.

But through the course of a year, the installation is expected to produce about 15,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, said Bob Clark, of SolarWind Energy Systems, LLC, an Okanogan company that built the array.

The $80,000 grant that paid for it, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will also provide energy-efficient windows for the school, noted John Sirois, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

“All the energy that’s produced is going to reduce our entire electric bill,” Sirois explained.

The installation features a passive tracking mechanism that requires no electricity to turn the big panels to face the sun as it crosses the sky.

Clark said such installations generally pay for themselves in about six years.

The program is a blueprint for possible further projects across the reservation, Sirois said.

“Indian people are so tied to our environment and to our lands, and this is a perfect way for us to continue that tradition in a new way,” he said. “I think this really stands as a true testament for us as a people, and just the beginning for us to produce renewable energies for ourselves and create a new economy for ourselves.”

Sirois said the funding comes with a lot of reporting requirements, and many tribes gave up on projects that ran into bureaucratic stumbling blocks as the federal Dept. of Energy developed the new program. He praised the previous Colville Business Council for seeing it through.

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