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For the past decade we have worked on solar thermal and solar photovoltaic installations on the White Earth and Leech Lake reservations.

In 2017, with the purchase of our new facility, we were able to begin building 8th Fire Solar and have purchased a license agreement, and technology transfer to begin the manufacturing of solar thermal panels for installation on Minnesota houses.  This is very significant, since fuel poverty strikes at the heart of many of our communities, and these solar thermal panels can save up to 20% of a heating bill when installed. We plan to build an integrated renewable energy program in the upcoming year, with renewable energy, energy efficiency, and weatherization elements.

This project responds to the growing natural resource impacts of using imported fossil fuels to supply Minnesota’s low-income energy needs.  The solar energy system will increase the state’s annual renewable energy production by an estimated 253,837 kilowatt hours, thereby offsetting an estimated 150 tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions.  The community solar asset will last 30 years and is projected to avoid GHG emissions of approximately 6,270.06 MTCO2e over its lifetime.   Minnesota had 4256 solar jobs in Minnesota this past year, with a 48% increase in the past few years. We wish to be part of the solar renaissance.

 

RREAL Solar Thermal Air Furnace Project Updates and Planning Summary

 

Ponsford Property  

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Over the past year, Honor the Earth has greatly increased both our annual budget and our internal capacity, providing the resources to purchase a 40-acre property for $275,000, which will become our sustainability campus on the outskirts of Pine Point. The facility includes a large 5-bedroom home now housing our merchandise and sales, a large 36 x 56 foot heated work shed which will house our solar thermal manufacturing facility, and a small out building which we anticipate will be utilized for daycare.  This is our anchor.

Our intention for this property is to focus on a reaffirmation of Indigenous values and culture, and the restoration of an integrated economy through small scale manufacturing, renewable energy, innovative art initiatives, and food systems.  

The house is energy efficient with two air source heat pumps, an LP gas furnace, and in-floor heating from an outdoor wood boiler.  No major work will be needed on the house other than cosmetic changes for the new purposes. The property has fiber-to-the-home broadband which will be more than sufficient for the micro-business needs.  

The workshop facility that we will use for the solar thermal manufacturing will need some work--it is heated but will need insulation, and other construction to allow for efficient manufacturing work.  We expect to receive guidance from RREAL in planning the manufacturing plant layout.

 

Workforce Training 

We have successfully completed our Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development grant training project. Under the supervision of RREAL trainers, fifteen women from the White Earth reservation received intensive hands on training over the course of 7 days, during which they installed two solar air furnaces on buildings in Pine Point.

We have hired two of the trainees as interns, and they are currently working on small construction jobs throughout the community and assisting with administrative tasks; however, our long-range plan is for them and possibly other trainees to assist with the remodeling project and participate in the panel manufacturing. We have applied for another grant of $50,100 from MN DEED to continue these workforce development efforts.

We also recently repeated the training for fifteen women on the Leech Lake reservation, which has a similar goal of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and is a potential market for our panels. It will therefore be helpful to have a team of trained installers in that community as well.  There are funds remaining from the grant to offer two internships in the Leech Lake community--most likely later this spring.

Additionally, recent meetings with the Minnesota Department of Commerce revealed that there is a great need in Minnesota for more certified energy auditors. We will soon apply for a grant to partner with a local college to train a team of energy auditors, which would complement our work in sustainable buildings and energy efficiency by increasing our understanding of cold climate housing needs. We are also exploring partnership opportunities with our local Community Action Council, Mahube, to expand our tribal housing weatherization program and create more job opportunities for our people.

Our next main project will be to train a team in building the solar thermal panels, and develop the management requirements for running a manufacturing facility—working with RREAL and possibly sending a team member to LEAN manufacturing training.