Times have been hard for Karen Spotted Tail, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. “My electric bills have been high, and I’ve had trouble paying them,” she says. “Those are the bills I worry about the most.”
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe lives in Todd County where, from 2009 to 2013, 44.6 percent of the population lived below poverty level, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Although the tribe receives funding through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, it is not able to help everyone, says Ken Haukaas, a consultant for the tribe’s utility commission.
Karen and other members of the tribe saw the cost of electricity increase by 50 percent between 2009 and 2015, he says.
“That was kind of a shock to all of us,” Ken says. “People have gotten their electricity cut off because they can’t afford to pay their bill.”
In October 2015, the nonprofit GRID Alternatives visited the tribe and installed solar panels on Karen’s roof during its annual Tribal Solarthon. The event, which is sponsored by the Wells Fargo Foundation, took place over two weeks and involved eight solar installation projects in four tribal communities in California, Arizona, South Dakota, and New York.
About two months after she received the solar panels, Karen saw savings of at least 50 percent, and Ken says it is helping to create awareness across the tribal community about solar power.
“I’m grateful this happened to me,” Karen says. “I wish everybody could receive this help.”
Job training and support
GRID Alternatives makes renewable energy accessible to low-income communities, and it also provides job training to local students and members of the community by teaching them to install the solar power systems. For example, Rosebud Sioux tribal members and Sinte Gleska University students participated in the installation at Karen’s house.
Ken says the tribe hopes to purchase and install its own solar panels for other homes, now that members of the tribe have received training: “Tribe members are able to see that this is working and want to have solar installation at their own house.”
Wells Fargo has provided $4 million in grants to GRID Alternatives since 2007.
The Wells Fargo Foundation has provided more than $4 million in grants to GRID Alternatives since 2007, helping the organization bring solar power to more than 6,000 families and train more than 20,000 volunteers and job trainees. Wells Fargo team members also have dedicated their volunteer efforts to install solar power for 58 families.
“We are incredibly grateful to Wells Fargo for being a long-term supporter, helping us expand the scope and geographic reach of our work to make renewable energy accessible to people who need it most,” says Erica Mackie, GRID Alternatives CEO and co-founder.
“GRID Alternatives continues to positively impact communities across the U.S., helping to greatly improve the quality of life for many by reducing their energy costs,” says Mary Wenzel, head of Environmental Affairs for Wells Fargo and a GRID Alternatives national board member. “We are honored to be a leading and long-term sponsor of such important work.”
Note: A version of this story also appeared in the 2015 Wells Fargo Annual Report (PDF).