Native run solar firm aims to reduce heat emissions and costs

Native run solar firm aims to reduce heat emissions and costs

OSAGE, Minn. — Neat stacks of aluminum sheets, insulation, and dark metal frames are stacked atop long tables in a quiet northern Minnesota manufacturing facility. Here a group of Native American workers is assembling components in green energy technology aimed at reducing heating bills and emissions on tribal lands and beyond.

An Anishinaabe-run non-profit based on the White Earth Reservation, 8th Fire Solar produces and installs solar thermal panels – a lesser known sun-powered technology used to help heat homes and buildings Is.

The firm is part of a growing effort to expand solar power to tribal lands in Minnesota, which advocates say taps into belief systems to save people money and work in harmony with nature while pursuing tribal energy independence .

“We can honor our traditional beliefs with new technology,” said 8th Fire sales and marketing director Gwe Gasco.

Unlike rooftop photovoltaic solar, solar thermal panels are mounted on the south side of a structure, absorbing heat from the sun, and passing it through to the inside. For a typical household, Gasco said, this could reduce heating bills by between 30 and 40%, which means using less fossil fuel for heat.

Experts say this is particularly important this year as heating prices are likely to be higher. The price of natural gas remains high as global markets reset from the war between Russia and Ukraine and the COVID pandemic, according to Annie Levenson-Falk, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens Utilities Board of Minnesota.

Data shows Minnesota natives feel the heating and energy bill disproportionately. The state’s reservations are in cold, rural areas that are less frequently on the standard natural gas grid, meaning more people have to heat with expensive fuels like propane. Housing stock also tends to be older and less energy efficient.

In Minnesota, Native Americans received federal energy assistance Highest bills and lowest household income during the 2021-2022 heating seasonAccording to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Last winter, 127,638 households across the state received energy assistance totaling $206 million. Native American households on energy assistance paid an average of $2,691 annually to heat and power their homes, more than any other group, state data show, and received an average of $2,337 in assistance.

Other racial groups on energy assistance received an average of a little over $2,000 a year in heating and electricity costs and an average of almost $1,600 in assistance.

“We view the cost of fuel as an equity issue,” said Kevin Lee, deputy commissioner of energy resources with the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Applications are now open for energy assistance in Minnesota, And it’s better to sign up earlier to get the benefits when you need them, Li said. A family of four can earn up to $58,0000 and still qualify for Energy Assistance, a federal program administered largely by local community action partnership agencies.

Native Americans are more likely than other groups to pay a higher percentage of their income on electricity and heating, according to data from United States Department of Energy, The average Minnesota household spends 2% of their income on energy, compared to 7% on the White Earth Reservation and 6% on the Red Lake Reservation.

More than half of 8th Fire’s installations are on reservation land, which is a goal for the organization.

Unlike photovoltaic solar, which consists of many small rectangles on a single panel, solar thermal panels use a large, coated aluminum absorber plate to create a solar-powered furnace.

The sun hits the plate and the heat generated from it passes through the space and layers of insulation. The interior of the panel is connected to a structure by a duct at each end. Air enters through the intake manifold, passes over an absorber plate to absorb heat, and is pushed into the structure by a fan connected to a controller and thermostat. The solar thermal system works in conjunction with the structure’s existing heating infrastructure.

The panels look like large screen TVs and are mounted on south-facing walls using an aluminum racking system. A weather-tight seal is created using foam insulation and gaskets.

Gasco said that the name of the eighth fire refers to Anishinaabe prophecies. Currently, humanity is in the time of the Seventh Fire, when the Anishinaabe believe people must choose between a worn-out, scorched-earth way and a green, new way. Moving towards the green path will bring the Eighth Fire and a chance for a better future.

Currently, 8th Fire employs 10 people, but increased demand is driving the need for more workers.

Hosting a Nonprofit Green Jobs Conference at Shooting Star Casino Walker, Minn., on Dec. 16.

The group’s goal is to spread its knowledge around tribal communities in Minnesota so Native people can build more green infrastructure and gain more job opportunities.

“We want to encourage tribal economies,” Gasco said.

this story comes from you Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering Minnesota’s immigrants and communities of color. sign up for free newsletter To get stories delivered to your inbox.

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