Office of Indian Energy internship program builds technical expertise

Students learn about different types of solar panels and arrays during the July 2016 Ute Mountain Ute Youth Energy Day in Colorado, hosted by the DOE Office of Indian Energy as part of its efforts to promote STEM education in tribal communities. The event is one of many education and training opportunities the Office of Indian Energy offers to tribes.
Students learn about different types of solar panels and arrays during the July 2016 Ute Mountain Ute Youth Energy Day in Colorado, hosted by the DOE Office of Indian Energy as part of its efforts to promote STEM education in tribal communities. The event is one of many education and training opportunities the Office of Indian Energy offers to tribes. (Photo by DOE Office of Indian Energy)

An educated and technically skilled workforce is paramount to the development of tribal energy resources and the protection of tribal lands. The Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy’s college student summer internship program has cultivated that workforce for more than 16 years.

Current full-time undergraduates and graduate students who are familiar with Native American culture and tribal issues apply to support Office of Indian Energy-funded projects in the field and at DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories. During the 12-week internship, interns work with cross-disciplinary teams to receive hands-on experience and gain valuable knowledge about numerous energy technologies. This helps to build awareness in the tribal community around important energy issues and research while bringing technically skilled Native Americans into the workforce.

Half of the interns who have completed their degrees work in tribal positions, including one who is the renewable energy engineer for WAPA customer, the Navajo Tribal Utility AuthorityYou are leaving WAPA.gov. Another 33 percent hold jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields outside their tribes.

Graduates spread awareness
Recently, Chelsea Chee, a former intern and member of the Navajo Nation, received the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity Rising Star award for leadership across several major projects in New Mexico. The award recognizes individuals at the beginning of their career who have demonstrated exemplary leadership traits promoting access, equity and diversity in education and the workforce.

One of the accomplishments that earned the honor for Chee began with an idea she had as an intern in the class of 2011-2013. She created the Natives In STEM You are leaving WAPA.gov. program through her current position as the diversity and inclusion coordinator for New Mexico’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. “It wouldn’t have been possible if [my mentors and supervisors] hadn’t supported my work and my ideas, some of which were different,” Chee said. “But they trusted me and supported me and helped me turn those ideas into fruition.”

Chee’s initiative brings visibility to Native American STEM professionals, inspiring students of all backgrounds to pursue STEM careers. Now co-led with American Indian Science and Engineering Society You are leaving WAPA.gov., the project has distributed more than 4,500 posters that feature five Native STEM professionals, including to 137 Bureau of Indian Education schools, 14 tribal colleges and universities, and tribal libraries across the country. Chee is also active in the larger equity community at the state and national levels.

Inclusion matters
The importance of internships and programs like Natives in STEM for increasing diversity in technical fields cannot be understated. According to the National Science Foundation, American Indians or Alaska Natives hold just 0.2 percent of science and engineering occupations, and represent only 0.3 percent of highest degree-holders in S&E fields.

Especially to young people, it can make a world of difference to know that others from their community have followed a path that may seem beyond reach. Chee recalled that one of the reasons she applied to the internship program was Sandra Begay, the internship coordinator and principal member of the Sandia Lab technical staff. Begay was the first Navajo woman Chee met who was connected to STEM and became an instant mentor to the intern.

Since completing her internship five years ago, Chee has become a voice for tribal inclusion in STEM settings and has taken part in equity conversations at state and local levels throughout New Mexico. She pointed out that people from rural areas—tribal and otherwise—often cannot get to Albuquerque to take part in STEM-related conversations. “It is important to have that input,” she said.

Chee continues to make inclusion her mission, adding that the Indian Energy program and internship were instrumental for her. “It was one of the best, if not the best, internship programs I’ve ever been a part of,” she stated.

Participate in Indian Energy programs
The 2018 internship program placed interns on projects such as on- and off-grid photovoltaic installations and a distributed energy resource system comprising large PV array, micro-turbine, fuel cell and large battery bank. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and have a grade point average of 3.0 for undergraduates and 4.0 for graduate students. Learn more about the application process and past interns on the Office of Indian Energy website.

In addition to the internship program, the Office of Indian Energy provides education and training opportunities, including regional workshops, webinars, Tribal Leader Forums, a comprehensive online training curriculum and an energy resource library. WAPA cosponsors the Tribal Energy Webinar series to help the diverse tribal communities evaluate and prioritize their energy options.

Source: DOE Office of Indian Energy blog, 5/29/18

Kayenta Solar Farm to expand; partners consider more renewables projects

Nothing says success like expansion, and the landmark agreement between the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority You are leaving WAPA.gov. (NTUA) and Salt River Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. (SRP) to expand the Kayenta Solar I facility has success written all over it.

Salt River Project purchased two years' worth of clean energy and environmental attributes from the 27.3- megawatt Kayenta I Solar Project, helping to fund its construction. When the Kayenta II expansion is complete, SRP will extend the original contract by one year.
Salt River Project purchased two years’ worth of clean energy and environmental attributes from the 27.3- megawatt Kayenta I Solar Project, helping to fund its construction. When the Kayenta II expansion is complete, SRP will extend the original contract by one year. (Photo by Navajo Tribal Utility Authority)

Only the beginning
The announcement of the expansion coincided with signing a long-term solar contract for the sale of firmed energy and environmental attributes from Kayenta II, as the project is called. SRP and NTUA also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in which they committed to pursuing future renewable energy projects.

“The Kayenta I Solar Project has become the Navajo Nation’s showcase renewable energy project to demonstrate that the Navajo Nation is ready for large-scale renewable energy development and operation,” said NTUA General Manager Walter Haase.

SRP General Manager and CEO Mark Bonsall said that the agreement is an essential platform for the utility and the tribe to develop future projects. “The renewable energy credits from this project will also help SRP expand its renewable portfolio to further reduce carbon emissions,” noted Bonsall.

More renewables to come
Under the MOU, SRP will provide technical support in developing interconnection facilities for large-scale renewable development within the Navajo Nation. The utility will also provide procurement and financing expertise related to the development and ownership of such projects. The agreement targets the development of at least 500 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy projects over the next five to 10 years within the Navajo Nation.

During the development of Kayenta I, SRP signed a two-year energy and environmental attribute contract. Once Kayenta II reaches commercial operation, the utility will add another year to the Kayenta I contract with options for further extensions resulting from the commitment to jointly pursue additional projects.

So far, development has focused on solar and wind resources, but the tribe is open to exploring other types of renewable generation. “We believe it is our responsibility to take the lead role in the development of renewable energy projects to promote economic development within the Navajo Nation,” said NTUA Spokeswoman Deenise Becenti.

Developing workforce, economy
NTUA anticipates that Kayenta II will further prove the tribe’s ability to develop renewable energy projects and build on the economic gains of the first solar facility.

Navajo workers received more than 4,700 hours of specialized training in solar-utility construction for the Kayenta I Solar Project. Construction of the next phase will likely employ even more Navajo workers.
Navajo workers received more than 4,700 hours of specialized training in solar-utility construction for the Kayenta I Solar Project. Construction of the next phase will likely employ even more Navajo workers. (Photo by Navajo Tribal Utility)

The 27.3-MW Kayenta Solar Project generates electricity to power an estimated 18,000 homes served by NTUA. At the height of construction, around 278 people worked on the project, 236 of whom were of Navajo descent.

The Navajo workforce was paid $5.2 million and received over 4,700 hours of specialized training in solar-utility construction for Kayenta I. The construction of Kayenta II will likely employ even more Navajo workers and is expected to produce similar salaries for the employees.

Tribe members have taken the skills they learned on the first Kayenta facility to other projects, added Becenti. “That trained workforce was able to find construction jobs at a solar farm in nearby Gallup, New Mexico,” she said.

The construction also generated $3,017,055 in taxes paid to the Navajo Nation. Overall, it is estimated that $15.6 million in economic activity occurred within the surrounding communities during construction.

Creating bright energy future
The Navajo Nation considers Kayenta II to be the next step toward the tribe producing energy for its own use. The facility is expected to begin commercial operation in the May 2019.

There are no current plans to add storage to the project, but the technology is on the tribe’s radar for future opportunities. This is another area where the Navajo Nation may be able to leverage its partner’s expertise. Last year, SRP signed two power purchase agreements with NextEra Energy Resources, one for a 20-MW solar array with energy storage and a separate agreement for a 10-MW grid-scale battery. The utility also plans to work with NextEra to test the economic viability of using storage to integrate intermittent renewable resources on its grid.

The Navajo Nation appreciates SRP’s willingness to continue to work alongside NTUA, Haase stated. He looks forward to Kayenta II generating not only clean electricity, but more jobs and promising economic activity in the region, as well. “This partnership is all about progress,” said Haase.

Source: SRP, 1/26/18

Tribal solar farm breaks new ground for Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation, WAPA’s largest tribal customer, is about to join the ranks of utility-scale renewable energy producers with the construction of a 27.5-megawatt (MW) solar farm at Kayenta, Arizona.

Residents of surrounding communities, tribal leaders and officials from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kayenta Solar Farm near WAPA's Kayenta Substation in Arizona.
Residents of surrounding communities, tribal leaders and officials from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kayenta Solar Farm near WAPA’s Kayenta Substation in Arizona. (Photo by Travis Weger, WAPA Public Affairs specialist)

WAPA Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel and Chief Public Affairs Officer Teresa Plant attended the groundbreaking ceremony on the Navajo Nation, April 23. Also joining the ceremony were residents of surrounding communities, tribal leaders and officials from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, You are leaving WAPA.gov. the primary power provider for the tribe.

The new facility, the largest Native-owned renewable project in the country, is expected to be operational by spring 2017. “We are excited to show that the Navajo Nation can develop an energy project on this scale,” said Deenise Becenti, NTUA spokesperson.

Many reasons to build
In addition to valuable experience, the solar farm will also provide power to a northern section of the Navajo Nation at some of the “lowest consumer electric rates in the region,” according to an NTUA press release. This is significant because of all the Native households in the U.S. that do not have electric power, 75 percent are in the Navajo Nation.

Other benefits of the project include promoting grid modernization and economic development. Construction will require about 100 workers, and there are expected to be five permanent jobs managing the facility. “It may not sound like much,” Becenti acknowledged, “but on the average, each employed tribe member helps to support eight others.”

She added that some people who have left the area to find jobs will be able to return home.

Partnering to reach goals
NTUA has taken the lead on developing the $64 million project, working out an agreement with Salt River Project You are leaving WAPA.gov. for the energy credits. SRP’s purchase of two years’ worth of energy and environmental attributes from the Kayenta Solar Farm is helping to fund its construction. The project is also receiving tax credits and loans, mainly from the Cooperative Finance Corporation, You are leaving WAPA.gov. a finance cooperative run by a network of electric cooperatives.

The purchase of the attributes will help SRP meet its goal of getting 20 percent of its retail energy requirements from sustainable resources by 2020. The Arizona-based public power provider contracted in 2012 to buy renewable energy certificates from solar arrays NTUA rents to low-income customers who do not have access to electricity. NTUA also sells SRP the credits from small solar installations on some utility facilities.

Bringing a large-scale renewable energy project to the Navajo Nation has been a long-time goal of the tribal utility, said NTUA General Manager Walter Hasse in a recent interview. “It is an important next step in the development of a green economy for the Navajo Nation,” he stated.

WAPA pitches in
The solar farm will be connecting to the larger grid through WAPA’s Kayenta Substation. WAPA has a long-standing relationship with NTUA, and has cooperated with the 55-year-old tribal utility on past projects.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Gabriel said, “We hope to continue building this kind of mutually beneficial partnership well into the future, especially with our Native American customers. Changes in the electric industry are occurring rapidly and WAPA stands ready to continue providing technical assistance in power marketing, resource management and transmission services for the Navajo Nation.”

Source: WAPA Closed Circuit, June 2016

Western customers recognized for contributions to utility industry

At Western, we know our customers are hardworking, talented and dedicated to the utility industry, so it makes us feel good when other industry organizations take notice, as the American Public Power Association (APPA) did this year. During the APPA national conference in June, the association honored Brad Roos of Marshall Municipal Utilities and Walter Wolf of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority with its James D. Donovan Individual Achievement Award.

The award, named for one of the founders and first president of APPA, recognizes those who have made great individual contributions to the electric utility industry and to public power.

Brad Roos, general manager of Marshall Municipal Utilities, is a third generation utility professional. (Photo by Marshall Municipal Utilities)
Brad Roos, general manager of Marshall Municipal Utilities, is a third generation utility professional. (Photo by Marshall Municipal Utilities)

Family history in public power
Brad Roos, general manager of Marshall Municipal Utilities in Marshall, Minnesota, is a third generation public power utility professional whose father and grandfather were utility managers in Iowa. In addition to serving on APPA’s board and several committees, Roos is also a past president of Mid-West Electric Consumers Association, which protects the interests of federal power customers in the Missouri Basin. “Brad has been a vocal advocate for Western and a tireless public servant,” noted Energy Services Manager Ron Horstman.

Roos, who attended the annual meeting to accept the award in person, acknowledged that he shares the honor with the utilities and organizations he has worked for, past and present. “I am honored to receive the James D. Donovan award, and I believe it also recognizes the municipal electric utilities I worked for in Denison, Iowa, and Marshall, Minnesota, and their involvement in our regional, state and national utility organizations,” he said. “Although our individual consumer-owned utilities may be small and spread out all over America, when we work together, our collective voices are heard on the issue under consideration.”

Walter Wolf has served as chief legal counsel of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority since 1959. (Photo by Navajo Tribal Utility Authority)
Walter Wolf has served as chief legal counsel of the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority since 1959. (Photo by Navajo Tribal Utility Authority)

Bringing power to Navajo Nation
As chief legal counsel for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority since 1959, Walter Wolf has been instrumental in developing electric resources in the southwest. Electrification of the Navajo Nation’s 27,000-square-mile service area is an ongoing challenge due to a lack of infrastructure and consistent funding, but Wolf has worked tirelessly to extend electric service to remote customers. He also helped to create the Native American Power Pool with Western, a power allocation sharing system that allowed tribes to benefit from low-cost hydropower even if they didn’t have an operating utility.

Brent Osiek, Contracts and Energy Services manager in Western’s CRSP Management Center, said, “Walter Wolf has been a wonderful collaborator over the years in solving problems with patience, wisdom and common sense. He’s been a great partner in working with Western.”

“Energy distribution was an unexplored possibility for Navajo leaders at the time Walter was hired,” recalled Navajo Tribal Utility Authority General Manager Walter W. Haase. “It seemed completely out of reach, until Walter presented to tribal leaders a plan whereby they can create an electric tribal utility.”

Since then, he added, Wolf has written almost every significant document relating to the development and progress of NTUA. “We sincerely congratulate him as he deserves this recognition,” said Haase.

“Every power line that we build is an achievement, and every family that we connect is a success story,” said Wolf. “I’m happy that I have accomplished something this significant in my lifetime. I am very lucky.”

Western is lucky to count such committed and innovative professionals among our customers. We congratulate Roos and Wolf for the well-deserved recognition of their achievements in the industry and their communities.