Soboba receives recognition for its environmental impact

A solar field is the first solar project installed recently at the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians’ Reservation. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Special to Valley News

At the GRID Alternatives Inland Empire 10-year anniversary celebration, community leaders and partners who are making a positive impact were recognized through the nonprofit’s annual Sunshine Awards. The Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians received one of six awards presented during the virtual event Thursday, Oct. 7.

The Sunshine Award for Environment honors those who are advancing green practices and promoting the benefits of sustainability while creating economic wealth, mitigating environmental impacts and acting inclusively toward all segments of society.

GRID IE provides access to clean, renewable solar energy to low-income families and hands-on job training to help workers enter the solar industry. It began its Sunshine Awards program in 2017 to recognize the community partners, organizations and leaders whose work exemplifies, supports and actualizes those values in the immediate Inland Empire community.

“To be a Sunshine Award nominee is not about presenting an award for what someone has done for GRID,” Cynthia “Cindy” Corrales, workforce and volunteer manager of GRID Alternatives Inland Empire, who served as one of the ceremony’s hosts, said. “It’s really all about recognizing what someone or an organization has done for the Inland communities.”

Lisa Castilone, the community development and tribal manager for GRID Alternatives Inland Empire, presented Soboba with its 2021 environmental partner of the year award.

“We are celebrating a longstanding partnership with the tribe that will incorporate this year building a microgrid system that is paired with batteries for the tribe’s state-of-the-art fire station,” she said.

Castilone said the project is designed to help the tribe and the community-at-large by ensuring that the Soboba Fire Station’s emergency center will have power during an outage, especially those caused by natural disasters such as wildfires that plague the local area.

Soboba Tribal Council Chair Isaiah Vivanco and Vice Chair Geneva Mojado were online to accept the award virtually.

“We are proud and honored to be recognized by GRID Alternatives IE for this Sunshine Award,” Vivanco said. “Over the course of the tribe’s history, we have always been mindful of the resources left for us on this earth and we are constantly looking for ways to improve things. Partnerships like this with GRID really helped us explore those options and take advantage of them.”

Vivanco explained that about five years ago, with the help of the Department of Energy, the tribe completed two 1-megawatt solar fields. They are used to offset current energy cost usage in a sustainable way while providing economic savings used to promote and enhance other tribal community programs.

“That’s really been a kick-off for us and seeing the benefit in that, we progressed into working with GRID and have really taken advantage of everything they have to offer,” he said. “Our fire department is making sure this current project is helping us stay resilient and making sure we have power and that we’re able to restore energy to that service, a major part of our public safety, which is important to us as a tribe.”

GRID Alternatives was awarded a $1.7 million grant from the California Energy Commission for a microgrid community solar project and battery backup system on the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians reservation in San Jacinto. This project will consist of a 55-kilowatt, direct-current solar system, installed on a carport at the Soboba Fire Station, with a resilient battery backup system that can last six to 10 hours in case of a power shut off, which will provide an emergency source of power for the community. The battery backup system’s non-lithium battery will be led and monitored by the University of California Riverside’s Office of Sustainability team and energy division.

The California Energy Commission grant project is intended to improve community resilience and community safety, improve operation of critical facilities, provide a platform for new battery technology advancement and advance clean energy goals, reducing the tribe’s total energy cost.

“This project will not only allow emergency services to continue during outages but will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate disasters that cause the outages in the first place,” Castilone said.

Installation for the CEC-funded Soboba Fire Station carport will commence in November, followed by installation of the battery backup system and is slated for completion next year.

“We’re honored to be recognized, and honored to be working with GRID,” Vivanco said. “We value the relationship we have with the GRID IE team of Lisa Castilone and Dan Dumovich. We look forward to doing more and bigger things with you and hope that you continue your efforts throughout Indian Country in the area. We really appreciate that, and I can’t say that enough.”

Vivanco also gave thanks to the Soboba team members that were involved with solar projects on the reservation, which included Michael Castello, Devon Lomayesa, David Hong, Steven Estrada, Ken McLaughlin and Lenell Carter “and the rest of our Soboba team and those from GRID that worked with our team.”

Castilone said, “It’s an honor and privilege for GRID to work with tribal communities right here in the Inland Empire. I’m looking forward to many more projects like this.”

GRID IE developed the tribal program, which would evolve into GRID’s National Tribal Program, with the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe where 96 homeowners continue to benefit from renewable energy technology. Recent milestones include piloting California’s first low-income community solar project in partnership with Anza Electric Cooperative and the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians and the electric vehicle charging station and tribal pilot program with the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians.

Every GRID Alternatives Inland Empire project is an opportunity for tribal members to learn about solar installation and related energy issues. GRID partners with tribal colleges and workforce development programs to provide students with hands-on solar training and connections to local solar companies, offers workshops and energy efficiency education to tribal members, and works with K-12 schools to introduce students to renewable energy.

Other Sunshine Award honorees for 2021 are Collaboration: Center for Environmental Research & Technology, University of California Riverside/Southern California-Research Initiative for Solar Energy; Equity & Justice: Beneficial State Foundation; Workforce Development: Riverside Unified School District Career Technical Education; Public Partner: Coachella Valley Association of Governments and Corporate Partner: Edison International and Anza Electric Cooperative.

GRID Alternatives Inland Empire’s team has more projects on the horizon and as Jaime Alonso, executive director, said in closing the Sunshine Awards presentation, “GRID IE is answering the call to lead our clean energy future and never losing sight of where the benefits of our labor must flow: people, planet and employment.”

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