Power has been a central issue that the Ramona Band has had to grapple with. Due to the Reservation’s remote and rural location, it was determined to be not only cost prohibitive but also environmentally and aesthetically undesirable to install power lines throughout the Reservation. More so, because the Reservation is surrounded by US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, acquiring access permits for power line easements was found to also be time and cost prohibitive. Consequently, on-site renewable energy was determined to be the most cost-effective, long-term solution for providing power to Tribal residences and future economic development activities. This decision was incredibly revolutionary as the Tribe was one of the first in the country to envision the build-out of its Reservation and economic development in an entirely off-grid manner.
Armed with the decision to pursue off-grid development, the Tribe partnered with the US Department of Energy (DOE) on two energy-related grants. The first grant application, submitted to the DOE in 1999, aimed to develop the capacity to build-out an off-grid energy system that would support cultural and economic development initiatives. Supplemental funding was secured through other Federal agencies and the Tribe moved forward constructing an ecotourism center comprised of five yurt structures. A hybrid energy system was also installed to support the facilities. As part of the 1999 DOE funding package, the Tribe partnered with Domestic Technologies Inc. and was provided with technical support for designing the hybrid system, conducting cultural impact analyses, and training Tribal members in the operations and maintenance of the hybrid energy system. However, due to time constraints, a performance evaluation of the energy system was not able to be conducted within the 1999 DOE grant period so supplemental funds were requested to carry out the evaluation at a later date.
In 2002 the Tribe received additional funding from the DOE to carry out the hybrid system evaluation. Although the original business plan of operating an ecotourism center has not yet manifested, the Tribe has used this project as a case study for how off-grid, green development can be successfully implemented on Tribal lands. Specifically, this case study underscores:
- The reliability, cost-effectiveness, replicability, and market potential of renewable energy and solar thermal systems on Tribal lands;
- The feasibility of utilizing renewable energy power systems to reduce the environmental impacts of electric grid power lines on Tribal lands, National Forests, National Parks, and other general rural environments;
- The ability for cultural stewardship land management plans to coexist with economic development initiatives, and how the fusion between environmentally conscientious land management and economic development can forge new opportunities for collaboration between Tribes and Federal agencies.
In sum, the Tribe has been energized not only by their ability to install and critically evaluate an off-grid energy system, but also by the progress being made across the country by other Tribal entities that are implementing cutting edge renewable energy projects.