Oceti Sakowin Solve Fellowship

Energy Efficiency and Solar for Tribal Buildings at Standing Rock

Bringing energy efficiency and solar power to Standing Rock buildings

Team Lead

Phyllis Young

Basic Information

Our Solution

Energy Efficiency/Solar for Tribal Bldgs. at Standing Rock

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Our tagline:

Bringing energy efficiency and solar power to Standing Rock buildings 

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Our pitch:

As a former Standing Rock tribal council member and an activist with over 40 years of experience promoting progressive causes for my people, I propose doing a massive overhaul of energy infrastructure at government-controlled buildings at Standing Rock. There are eight districts in our community: Long Soldier, Bear Soldier, Wakpala, Running Antelope, Canonnball, Porcupine, Rock Creek, and Kenel. Each one has between two and five government-owned buildings that consume large amounts of electricity. Meanwhile, the cost of power to Standing Rock citizens is 33% more than it is in Bismarck, just one hour away. By leveraging energy efficient technology and photovoltaics, our districts stand to save millions of dollars over the coming decades – and make a powerful statement about the necessity to shift towards renewable energy. In the aftermath of the DAPL pipeline debacle, Standing Rock citizens can continue to lead on the importance of protecting our sacred earth. We are like an island of ecological awareness within a sea of apathy. North Dakota currently receives 70% of its electricity from coal, one of the most carbon-intensive and hence climate-warming fuels. And there is no mandatory renewable energy portfolio standard in North or South Dakota; utilities face no pressure to change their energy mixes. In short, if Standing Rock were to make a transition to green energy, we would send a message to the entire world that despite DAPL we are still fighting for a rational energy future.

I have already identified a local company in Bismarck called Super Green Solutions that can help us with this transition. It is a brave outfit, and likely the only on in North Dakota like it. Super Green’s business model is such that they provide free energy efficiency and solar assessments to potential clients, placing no up-front financial burden on the customer. The company has already come to Standing Rock and assessed several government-owned buildings. The savings potential for the entire community is very large. Accompanying this letter is the first proposal provided by Super Green for just two clusters of buildings in the small district of Running Antelope. Potential cost savings for these buildings alone, if we were to install energy efficient lighting and solar power, is $198,259 over the life of the PV system (approximately 30 years). We are working with Super Green Solutions now to assess buildings throughout the various districts. Since Running Antelope is among the smallest of our communities, I estimate that several million dollars could be saved for the tribe in the coming decades if we make the needed investments now. And if grants are provided to offset the initial cost of creating green infrastructure, the savings will be even more. 

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Where our project is located:

Fort Yates, ND, USA
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The topic our project addresses:

  • Solar
  • Infrastructure
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About Your Solution

What makes our project innovative:

North Dakota has almost no solar energy; it is dead last among the 50 states in solar development. What is most innovative about this project is that we will be helping to transform the culture of the Midwest away from one that fetishizes fossil fuels to one that recognizes the benefits of green energy. Even states like California have a long way to go in transitioning to LED lighting and renewable energy. Each year green tech like PV cells become more competitive with traditional methods – the entire nation is transforming. I want Standing Rock to help lead this evolution. 

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How we use technology in our project:

There are a variety of advanced techniques for reducing energy need in a given building cluster and then accounting for the remaining demand with green methods. Super Green Solutions, the company from Bismarck with whom we are working, has deep knowledge of these techniques. Every building on Standing Rock is different – each one requires careful analysis. We will be using cutting edge products and technologies to optimize these buildings. The iconic appeal that our college, for example, or our tribal building will have after the transition will be an educational tool for all those who followed the NoDAPL struggle.

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Our project goals over the next 12 months:

The goal we’ve set—to retrofit buildings across our entire reservation—can be done step by step for as long as necessary. And the assessing and construction itself is fast. So we can move as quickly, or as slowly, as our fundraising dictates. My goal for the next 12 months is to retrofit as many of the main municipal buildings in our eight districts as possible. The most significant building in our community is our casino, which uses $50,000 of electricity/month. I hope to create momentum this year by focusing on smaller buildings so we can eventually retrofit the casino. 

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Our vision over the next three to five years to grow and scale our project to affect the lives of more people:

This project can prevent hundreds of thousands of pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere, and it could save money for our tribe. Meanwhile, our voice on environmental concerns in the wake of NoDAPL is powerful—so any carbon kept in the ground will have a larger-than-average impact, if communicated to the world (I intend to tell people what we’re doing!). And our economy is weak, so every dollar saved by our districts is desperately needed. My goal is to create an ongoing public education, organizing, and economic opportunity for the 10,000 people who make up our Standing Rock community.

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Highlights from our project:

We’ve already begun alerting the NoDAPL community about our work to Green Standing Rock. We’ve made a video that has been seen by over 250,000 people on Facebook, and we’ve collected 7,000 petition signatures so far in our bid to make North and South Dakota pass a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). An RPS would make it easier for us to go green. As the largest buyer of electricity from our local utility (Mor Gran Sou), our voice is powerful. Leaders from the Democratic Party of ND are among the many allies who’ve reached out to us to explore collaboration. 

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https://www.lakotalaw.org/our-actions/greenstandingrock

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Our promotional video:

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https://www.facebook.com/LakotaPeoplesLawProject/videos/10155590128202029/

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The cities where we operate or plan to operate in the next 12 months. First city:

Fort Yates, ND, USA
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Second city:

Fort Yates, ND, USA
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How our project will be accessible and affordable to our community:

Because our project—which involves many smaller, discrete retrofit projects—stands to save money for our districts immediately, i.e. they “pencil out”, the economics are easier to justify. However, credit is scarce on the reservation, and getting grants to make the infrastructure changes would be better than getting loans in any case since the savings would be larger that way. We will explore various funding models to see what works best, and we will do so with an eye towards benefiting each tribal member equally.

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How many people we are currently serving with our project:

Tribal programs depend on tribal funds, and every citizen of Standing Rock is touched by at least some tribal programs. Therefore, the more we can save tribal government from having to spend its scarce resources, the better off our citizens will be. As of now, hundreds of thousands of dollars are being wasted by our tribe on inefficient energy infrastructure. We will begin by retrofitting municipal buildings, mostly controlled by district-level government leaders. Over time, however, we hope to expand our work to include residential housing. 

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How many people we will be serving with our project in the 12 months and the next 3 years:

We have already assessed two of our districts, and we’re scheduling the third now. Soon we’ll have most, if not all, of our districts assessed. Once we have project proposals for each district, we’ll know the scope options for our immediate work. How quickly we’ll then be able to move forward will depend on funding. I estimate it will cost approximately $2-3 million to fully retrofit all municipal buildings on the reservation. We can pursue only a portion of this if funding is slender; or we could move beyond municipal buildings into other categories if funding is copious.

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About Your Team

How our project team is organized:

Non-Profit

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How many people work on our project team:

4

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How many years we have been working on our project:

Less than 1 year

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Our revenue model:

Our team has substantial fundraising experience. We understand social capital, we have access to powerful digital tools, and we know how to execute a campaign over a long stretch of time. We are confident that, with help from partners like SOLVE, we can find the resources to move forward. Moreover, we may be able to identify revenue from within the tribe in addition to outside it, given the cost-saving potential of our work. The Running Antelope District, for example, may already have the capital they need to implement their retrofits. 

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Partnership Potential

Why we are applying to Solve:

MIT is among the most respected academic institutions in the world. And Standing Rock is a global environmental and indigenous rights leader at this time. We believe that it is by forming partnerships across diverse cultural backgrounds that we break new ground on social problems such as those faced by our tribe (poverty, oppression) and the nation as a whole (a history of genocide, climate change). SOLVE was compassionate enough to commit to the Oceti Sakowin community, to partner with us. Our team understands the value of that.  

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The key barriers for our project:

We have the intellectual resources we need, though advice from SOLVE is most welcome; what we don’t have is the capital. It is rare to have a project that generates as much “surplus” revenue as ours will. Every retrofit we complete will pay dividends—it will cut in half the need for electricity within that built environment, and then installation of solar will save more even resources for our community over time. Every dollar donated by funders SOLVE can help us meet will be amplified. We will gain environmentally and financially. That’s a special opportunity. 

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The types of connections and partnerships we would be most interested in if we became Fellows:

  • Technology Mentorship
  • Connections to the MIT campus
  • Media Visibility and Exposure
  • Grant Funding
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Solution Team

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