Using Solar to Restore Economic Sovereignty on Tribal Lands

Elemental, and Social Justice

GRID Alternatives is helping the next generation of tribal leaders transform their communities—economically and environmentally—through renewable energy.

Cassandra Valandra, of the Rosebud Sioux Nation in South Dakota, is on a mission to bring solar power back to her native community. It’s a bold ambition for the reservation, and emblematic of a deeper web of problems that continue to hold Rosebud back. Behind the stark beauty of the reservation’s expansive landscape lies immense poverty—unemployment rates reach as high as 83% during the long, frigid winters.

In the county where Rosebud is located, the poorest households spend 31.8% of their income on energy bills, with average bills of $2,855 annually. Not only are these enormous costs for the low-income households to bear, but each bill only exacerbates the problem because those steep payments benefit utilities located off of the reservation. The money doesn't support the local community, but drains it. The precious capital that actually exists inevitably trickles out, and the area attracts no investment.

But what Rosebud lacks in economic opportunity it makes up for in natural wealth. By harnessing solar power in particular, the community can lay the foundation for self-reliance and economic change. Installing solar technology will not only enable households to cut down the costs of energy, freeing up some disposable income, but will also create jobs for the local population—bringing the community a step closer toward true sovereignty and ending the cycle of poverty in Rosebud.

Rosebud will accomplish this with the help of GRID Alternatives, the largest non-profit solar installer in the United States. GRID is committed to bringing the economic and environmental benefits of solar power to low-income communities. Through targeted cost-free solar installations, policy work, and workforce development, they are freeing low-income households across the country from the suffocating burden of high-priced electricity. As Native reservations around the country face some of the most startling energy challenges—as many as 15,000 tribal families live with no energy access at alls—a primary focus area for GRID is tribal communities.

Watch the video above to learn how GRID Alternatives is empowering Cassandra to bring sustainable energy solutions to her community.