The Jemez in New Mexico and Southern Utes in Colorado are among Native American tribes seeking to develop renewable energy on their reservations.
The Jemez tribe in New Mexico is seeking to develop a geothermal power system on its reservation west of Albuquerque. The project, funded in part by a nearly $5 million Department of Energy grant, is being managed by TBA Power and has brought technical geothermal training to at least six members of the tribe. The Jemez tribe is also seeking to develop a four-megawatt solar farm to earn revenue. A recently proposed Department of Interior rule is designed to make it easier for Indians to lease land for renewable energy projects. See related story on renewable energy and Native American Indian tribes.
The first phase of the Jemez project is to assess the geothermal resources available, which was done over the past year and a half. In the coming months, they intend to drill very deep in the earth, between 5,000 feet and 6,000 feet, with the hopes of tapping underground heat to make electricity. Here is a "thumper truck," part of the seismic equipment needed to create a three-dimensional picture of the underground temperatures, aquifers, and fissures in the rock.
In addition to creating a detailed picture of the subsurface, the project installed a network of seismic monitors like this one. One concern of geothermal drilling is that it could lead to tremors, which has derailed geothermal projects in Europe and California. Technical project manager Michael Albrecht is confident that drilling at this site will not increase seismic activity, but the group installed monitors to collect data and demonstrate it.
Another Indian tribe, the Southern Utes in Colorado, is making investments in different types of renewable energy. The tribe, which has become wealthy from its oil and gas resources, is developing a wind farm with the Shonone and has invested in an algae startup, Solix Biosystems. The company built its demonstration facility, pictured here, on the Southern Ute reservation.
Like many algae startups, Solix has not seen the rapid technical progress or sales it had originally hoped for when it was formed a few years. Now it has shifted focus to building test systems, including this Lumian AGS4000, for universities and other researchers. Its goal now is to sell equipment to algae growers, rather than to process the algae and sell fuel and other products themselves.
One of the technical challenges with growing algae is maintaining a rapid growth rate and not having "culture die-off" where the algae stop growing and die. Here is a photo of the plastic bags in Solix's bioreactors which take in carbon dioxide and water to stimulate growth. Each end of the bag lifts periodically to send some algae off for collection and then processing into sellable products.