Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Special to the Valley News

The Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians have been working with GRID Alternatives on two energy resilience projects and last month, project teams met with staff and Tribal Council members to demonstrate operations, provide updates and answer any questions.

Project teams on site at the Soboba Fire Station included GRID Alternatives’ Daniel Dumovich, director of strategic initiatives, and Nicole Bloom, project manager of strategic initiative, along with the Inland Empire chapter’s Executive Director Jaime Alonso; Invinity Energy Systems’ Jan Petrenko, regional manager of North America; California Energy Commission’s Sean Anayah, energy commission specialist and energy infrastructure integrity and sustainability agreement manager for Fire Station Microgrid, and Zoe Higgerson, utilities engineer of Energy Systems Research Branch agreement manager for MORBUGs; ONYX Power operations manager Aaron Dyer and engineer Casey Reams and from University of California Riverside, Alfredo A. Martinez-Morales, managing director of research faculty for Southern California-Research Initiatives for Solar Energy and project scientist Miroslav Penchev.

Soboba Fire Chief Glenn Patterson said the solar panels and Invinity Energy Systems’ non-lithium battery backup have been installed at the station. He added that this solar and battery backup microgrid will not only offset energy costs but will provide power to the fire station and the Emergency Operations Center during an emergency or natural disaster ensuring emergency management personnel are able to continue to operate and serve the Soboba Indian Reservation.

GRID Alternatives was awarded a California Energy Commission grant for a microgrid community solar project and battery backup system on the reservation. The solar panels were installed on a carport used for employee and visitor parking. The resilient battery backup system can last six to 10 hours in case of power shut offs at the fire station, which will be an emergency source of power for the community.

With CEC EPIC Support, GRID Alternatives, ONYX Power and University of California Riverside are partnering with Tribal communities to demonstrate and deploy grid-independent, modular generation systems to enable California’s Tribal communities to provide power when the grid is down, as well as mobile off-grid resources for facilities throughout the year. The generators provide immediate, flexible and scalable relief to families who are impacted the most by wildfires and grid outages, without the pollution and hazards associated with small portable gas generators.

“We are excited to use innovative technologies to advance climate resiliency in Tribal communities in California,” Community Development & Tribal Program Manager Lisa Castilone said. “This project will provide essential power to the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians Fire Station for the reservation, and the surrounding communities. 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.”

The Mobile Renewable Backup Generation, known as MORBUG, is for deployable community energy. Created by Casey Reams and Aaron R. Dyer of ONYX Power, the portable RHINO technology generators can provide quiet and clean power anywhere. The system has already been used at recent events on the reservation and has shown promise as a viable alternative to commonly used gas-powered generators. Dyer said he was told by Soboba Public Works that one was recently used on a construction site, with success.

Many employees from Soboba’s Public Works Department were given a hands-on demonstration and explanation of how MORBUG and its solar blankets work and what to expect from their performance. That department, along with Soboba’s Emergency Services division, will oversee the storage and deployment of them. Ten units have already been delivered and are intended to be used much more for fun than for emergencies, although they can be used at residences if needed and requested. Being one of the first projects to utilize them, it is hoped that Soboba can offer a template for other Tribes to follow.

California’s Tribal communities are highly impacted by planned and unplanned power shut offs and grid outages due to their rural locations. Entire communities are often left without power, and many critical facilities are left inoperable. Not only can this greatly limit disaster response, but the dependence on gas generators exacerbates climate change and poses direct health and fire risks to the communities that depend on them. ONYX Power’s Rhino technology is quiet, emissions-free, can be deployed in real-time, can expand in energy capacity, requires no lead time nor permitting, can power a home through a transfer switch like a generator, and the batteries and inverter can be replaced or upgraded in the future. The battery units can be paired with rapidly deployable solar units.

“We can provide adaptive technologies that don’t depend on large investments in terms of infrastructure,” GRID Alternatives Inland Empire Executive Director Jaime Alonso said. “One of the biggest things we see in extremely rural areas is initial reluctance so education is a key component to our work in terms of showing what the value is and that really just takes relationship building and continuous engagement.”

He cited the long-term relationship GRID has with Soboba and is grateful the Tribe is progressive and open to new ideas.

“Working with Tribal nations is something we see as essential to our mission. It lines up to our core mission to advance economic environmental justice through renewable energy,” Alonso said.

Alfredo A. Martinez-Morales, from University of California Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering, is part of a four-member team.

“The role of the university is to validate the performance of the technology,” he said. “These projects are intended to de-risk the technology, meaning to document, in the form of a case study, how well it performs and the benefits that are achieved through the project. So our job is to basically make sure the correct data has been collected and then analyze the data and draw certain conclusions based on the data as well as potentially make recommendations.”

Martinez-Morales said there is a combination of things that will be helpful to the end user, which is Soboba in this case, in showing how they can manage their system more efficiently but also it’s a product that is delivered to the CEC so that it becomes available to the public so all the facilities that may want to use this technology can see what went well, any opportunities for improvements, etc.

“We are involved in all the meetings with different groups within the project and provide feedback as the project develops,” he said. “At this point, a lot has been focused on the construction phase.”

He said the project is going well and a major milestone is on the horizon.

“Once the system is fully constructed and commissioned, that’s a huge deal and I think we are getting very close to that now,” Martinez-Morales said.

GRID Alternatives is a national leader in making clean, affordable solar power and solar jobs accessible to low-income communities and communities of color and its energy access work is powering off-grid communities across the globe. GRID’s vision: a successful transition to clean, renewable energy that includes everyone. GRID’s Tribal Program helps tribal communities become self-sustaining by providing resources to assist with their clean energy goals.

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