The Ute Mountain Ute tribe broke ground Wednesday on a $2 million solar project that will be used to lower electricity bills for tribal residents in Towaoc.
An 8-acre hayfield west of the Ute Mountain Casino will be transformed into a 1 megawatt solar array with 3,500 panels facing skyward. Construction is expected to take six to eight weeks, and after testing, the switch will be flipped on in June or July.
“This solar project pays respect to Mother Earth, and we are thankful for that,” Tribal Chairman Harold Cuthair said after remarks in the Ute language.
Cultural specialist Terry Knight offered a blessing of the site in the Ute language as dozens of tribal officials, council members and solar project workers gathered during a snow squall.
“This as a step forward for the tribe to become energy independent and self-reliant,” said Bernadette Cuthair, tribal community services director. “We want our tribal members to sign up to learn the solar trade.”
The project was funded by a $973,000 grant from the Department of Energy and a $1 million match from the tribe. It will be the largest solar array in Montezuma County.
The tribe partnered with Grid Alternatives, an organization that works to provide renewable energy to low-income communities.
“We believe the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy should include everyone,” said Brittney Heller, workforce organizer for Grid Alternatives.
Tribal members must sign up to receive solar discounts on their electric bill by April 30. They will bring their Empire Electric Association account information to the tribe’s planning department or environmental office, and reduced bills will start to show up in July or August.
An opportunity to sign up for discounts will happen every year. Government offices will also see electric bill savings from the project.
The project will create 13 temporary jobs and offer free training in the solar industry. Volunteer days allow tribal members to help build the project and learn skills.
Four three-month paid internships are being offered for tribal members to work on the project and receive training. Applications are being accepted. Workers will also be recruited from the tribe’s job force division.
“We hope this will create solar industry careers for tribal members,” said Scott Clow, environmental director and solar project organizer.
A free, two-week solar basic training course will be offered from March 25 to April 5. It includes CPR/first aid, OSHA 10 certification, hands-on solar labs, classroom training and field experience.
Volunteer build days are April 12-13, 15-18, 22-27 and April 29 to May 2.
Residents were advised to contact the environmental office to sign up for training, internship applications, volunteering or for project information at 970-564-5430 or to stop by at 520 Sunset Blvd.