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Solar heating demonstrated at United Tribes
Tribes urged to consider energy costs
18 September 2007

BISMARCK (UTN) The sun is shining on United Tribes Technical College, like it does all over Indian Country. And that turns out to be good for a project in solar energy.

      Students from the college's Tribal Environmental Science program were present September 7 for the installation of a solar heating panel at one of the college's family housing units.

Solar heating panel installation
Seven-year-old Christian Kills Plenty, a student at Theodore Jamerson Elementary School, watched the installation of a solar heating panel at his parent's home on the campus of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck. UTN photo Dennis J. Neumann

      The tribal college provided the location and two environmental organizations, "Honor The Earth," Minneapolis, MN, and "Trees, Water and People," Fort Collins, CO, were involved in the demonstration in renewable energy.

      "United Tribes is a good place for one of these," said Winona LaDuke, environmentalist, economist, writer, and Honor The Earth founder. "UTTC is an institution that has the potential to be a model of sustainability. The college can demonstrate solar and wind technology and help train people from all of the reservations in North Dakota."

Heat Absorbing Technology

      The United Tribes unit was built and installed by Henry Red Cloud of Lakota Solar Enterprises, Pine Ridge, SD. The design takes advantage of the selection of modern building materials commercially available. Sealed inside each panel made by Red Cloud at his workshop in Pine Ridge is a four-by-eight sheet of black chrome, which is ultra efficient at absorbing heat from the sun's rays.

      According to Richard Fox, national director for Trees, Water and People, each unit will produce a minimum monthly savings of 25 percent on heating costs fueled by natural gas.

Winona LaDuke

       "We primarily are working to develop the expertise in renewable energy in Native American communities," said Fox. "So the college is certainly an integral part of that."

      Since beginning in 2006, Lakota Solar Enterprises has installed 175 panels at houses on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations in South Dakota.

      Before Red Cloud finished installing the UTTC panel, it was already at work, billowing heat from a rear port. A quick check with a remote thermometer showed the 63 degree outside air had warmed to 144 degrees.

      Each unit is constructed facing south adjacent to a house not on it and uses a small electric blower attached to flexible duct-work to bring the sun-warmed air directly into the living room.

Henry Red Cloud

      "I thought it was really something," said Mike Matheny, director of UTTC's Construction Technology Program. "I like the whole concept. Low cost and easy to install."

      Matheny expressed an interest in having students in his program receive training in how to do the installation. United Tribes has 47 individual family houses on its campus on the edge of Bismarck.

      During November, the least sunny month of the year, Bismarck receives sunshine 44 percent of the time on average, according to the National Weather Service, which is located next door to the college.

New Energy Economy

      Honor The Earth predicts that Turtle Mountain Community College, Belcourt, ND, will be the first "off-grid" college campus in the country, using geothermal and wind energy. In 2003, the first Native-owned utility-scale wind turbine was installed on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.

Richard Fox

      "Basically Native nations can either participate in the last energy economy where we combust ourselves into oblivion," wrote LaDuke in an "Honor The Earth" publication. "Or we can participate in the next energy economy where we look out for those generations ahead and make sound economic and environmental decisions, choices that better reflect our traditional values and protect our lands."

      LaDuke promotes solar heating as a cost effective alternative for tribes that help pay the monthly heating costs of low income members.

      "When it comes to fuel assistance, at what point do we have efficiency?" she said. "Why continue to invest in the rising cost of heating fuels when you can provide long term supplemental heat with one of these?"

      Each of the Lakota Solar Enterprises units costs about $1,200 installed and will pay for itself within three years. The lifespan is estimated at 20 to 30 years.

      According to Matheny there will be more discussions at UTTC about using alternative energy on campus, including the idea of constructing a wind energy demonstration unit and a house heated entirely with solar energy.


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