Cherokee Nation installs solar panels at community centers

Workers install rooftop solar panels on a Cherokee community building. Under the tribe's Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act, approximately $7.5 million will upgrade Cherokee community buildings with connectivity and sustainability projects such as solar power, HVAC systems and Wi-Fi connectivity. COURTESY

TAHLEQUAH -- Cherokee Nation officials recently joined community leaders of Native American Fellowship Inc. in South Coffeyville and Tri-Community Association in Briggs to celebrate the installation of rooftop solar panels on the groups' respective community buildings to lower utility costs and provide a renewable energy source.�

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Deputy Chief Bryan Warner and other tribal officials met with community leaders to commemorate the projects, which are part of�a $30 million Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act Hoskin announced in August 2019.�

"A fundamental principle of our Cherokee culture is that we should consider the impact of what we do today on the next seven generations of future Cherokees," Hoskin said. "We are answering this sacred responsibility by investing in strong communities and a clean and healthy environment, and one result of that investment is enabling Cherokee community buildings to install rooftop solar panels. I could not be prouder of these two organizations, who have�served as the local leads for food storage and distribution to elders and Cherokee families in need. By reducing their energy costs, we free up dollars to help more citizens and feed more people. Our community organizations will be able to expand their reach, and we hope this is just the beginning of building similar cost-saving installations for other Cherokee community buildings."�

Under the Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act, 75% of the $30 million is helping CN citizens with housing repairs. The other 25% will upgrade Cherokee community buildings with connectivity and sustainability projects such as solar power, HVAC systems and Wi-Fi connectivity.�

The solar project is distributed through the tribe's�Community & Cultural Outreach�sustainability grant, which funds green-friendly efforts and other cost-saving renewable energy technology in Cherokee community buildings across the tribe's reservation.�

NAFI, serving residents in Nowata County, was the first Cherokee community organization to receive the solar panels. NAFI received�11 solar panels with�a�4.4kW system, which will offset approximately 70 percent of the building's energy costs, saving more than $23,000. The system is estimated to reduce emissions equivalent to nearly 10,200 miles annually in an average car, or 110,000 pounds of coal.�

"This grant we received through Cherokee Nation is a true blessing," NAFI President Bill Davis said. "We are very fortunate, and the Cherokee Nation is very fortunate, that we have a chief that is following through with the commitment to helping not only our community but all Cherokee communities. Our electric bill is normally about $170 a month and with the solar panels it will lower our bill tremendously. We are just really happy to receive these solar panels."�

Tri-Community Association, serving residents in Cherokee County, received 66 solar panels through the project.�The 26.4 kW system will offset more than half of the building's energy costs and save over $100,000 in energy costs over the system's life. The panels are estimated to reduce carbon emissions equal to about 60,500 miles annually for an average car, or about 650,000 pounds of coal burned at a conventional power plant.�

"In three and half years, we've provided 60,000 meals and there have been times when our utility bills have been so high that we didn't know how we were going to pay them, but we always managed to," Tri-Community Association President J.R. Sellers said. "That's where we got the idea for the need for solar panels. We couldn't do what we are doing if it wasn't for Cherokee Nation. We are getting things today that we couldn't get any other way. To say thank you would be an understatement."