Well, we’re not talking about a baby, but rather New Mexico’s first net zero energy building. On October 14, 2015, in Peñasco, about 50 miles north of Santa Fe, the Picuris Pueblo held an open house for the grand opening of its new solar-powered fire station and renovated gymnasium. As a fire engine siren wailed, the pueblo fire department crew “baptized” their new station according to firefighting tradition, kicking off a celebration of the community’s recent achievements.
In addition to the new 2,640-square-foot fire station, the event included the dedication of a new gymnasium and presentations on various economic development initiatives, including plans to develop a $3 million-dollar travel center and a 1-megawatt (MW) solar array by the end of 2016.
Joshua Sanchez from U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s office said that for Picuris, the smallest of New Mexico’s 19 pueblos, the fire station and gymnasium are “a tremendous accomplishment.” The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Indian Energy is assisting Picuris Pueblo with the solar system development through its Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) Program. Picuris is one of five American Indian Tribes receiving on-the-ground support with developing and deploying renewable energy projects.
Through START, teams of DOE and national laboratory technical experts provide customized technical support, working directly with the tribal project team and legal and financial specialists. For the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) team assisting Picuris with advancing its 1-MW solar project, this involves:
- Reviewing preliminary system performance modeling
- Guiding the project team on timing to comply with environmental requirements
- Providing feedback on pre-engineering studies and the proposed power purchase agreement
- Analyzing project financing structures
- Assessing proposals in support of the selection process for solar system developers.
Gary Pyne, Governor of Picuris Pueblo, explained that in 2008, Picuris installed a solar panel to offset the operating cost of the community’s drinking water well and pump station, which marked the pueblo’s first step toward fulfilling its renewable energy vision. “The recently completed solar-powered fire station and being selected to participate in DOE’s START Program have inspired the pueblo to look into a community-scale solar power system, which will hopefully reduce energy costs for our pueblo members.
DOE and NREL have proven to be valuable partners in our efforts to make our renewable energy vision a reality,” he said.
In addition to the technical assistance being provided through the START Program, the DOE Office of Indian Energy led a strategic energy planning workshop for Picuris in August 2014 to help the tribe develop its energy vision and a plan for achieving it. One of the strategic goals that came out of that workshop was that Picuris wanted to serve as a model for other Native American communities looking to implement renewable energy projects.