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Clean energy work underway for the Klamath Tribes

Posted by Bridget Callahan on June 2, 2016

With recent funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Klamath Tribes are one step closer toward a sustainble energy future.

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Small scale solar and biomass facilities can help the Klamath Tribes reach a clean and independent energy future.

Sustainable Northwest’s friends and longtime partners at the Klamath Tribes were awarded two grants totaling over $230,000 from the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs Energy and Mineral Development Program last fall. With this funding, the Klamath Tribes will assess the best renewable energy opportunities available on their lands, exploring solar and biomass energy projects on several locations, and work is now underway.

This May, Sustainable Northwest project staff traveled south to help the Klamath Tribes move one step closer toward their vision of a sustainable and energy independent homeland. Staff met with Tribal members from the Natural Resource, Economic, and Cultural and Heritage Departments, conducted field tours, and learned about the rich history surrounding this unique landscape.

Identifying the least sensitive site for solar will be a top priority. Anyone touring these lands is instructed to watch their footing as the fields contain visible relics from generations ago. It’s hard to not reflect on the past commingling with the promise of a clean energy future while wandering this landscape, catching glimpses of obsidian and melted beads below. A commitment toward good land stewardship ties the two worlds together. This is indeed a special and unique partnership.

The Sustainable Northwest project team with Tribal staff.
The Sustainable Northwest project team with Tribal staff.

A wealth of opportunity

Klamath Tribal lands are rich in natural resources. The solar resource value in sunny Southern Oregon is the best in the state, claiming the highest production capacity according to a recent Energy Trust of Oregon analysis. As a result of recent state legislation that aims to expand solar generation in Oregon, many are looking to this region as the ideal location to grow the solar market.

The project team will explore a variety of solar generation options, ranging from small rooftop solar to community and utility projects that could reap substantial ecological and economic benefits. This pre-development work will culminate in a recommendation to the Klamath Tribes on the optimal size, location, and financing options needed for a project to move forward. By harnessing this widely available renewable resource, solar generation can offset energy costs for several Tribal buildings, some of which currently rely on antiquated fossil fuels such as propane.

In addition to bountiful solar resources, Klamath Tribal lands are surrounded by dense, overstocked forests in need of restoration. These current conditions pose risks of insect infestation, wildfire, and poor wildlife habitat but signal a great opportunity to harness small diameter trees for biomass utilization. Sustainable Northwest will support an inventory and market assessment for the development of a woody biomass facility on the site of the defunct Crater Lake Mill, once a staple in the region which has lain idle for a decade.

The former Crater Lake Mill, now under ownership by the Klamath Tribes, is the proposed site for a new biomass energy facility.
The former Crater Lake Mill, now under ownership by the Klamath Tribes, is the proposed site for a new biomass energy facility.

Bringing the facility back to life is a win-win for the Tribes, allowing them to catalyze a new economic enterprise and support new jobs, while restoring the surrounding forests to more resilient conditions.

As both projects move forward, Sustainable Northwest will share updates and stories, highlighting the people, places and partnerships that spring these projects to life.