Leech Lake Band

Leech Lake leads on renewable energy with Solar Master Plan

February 2020

In an effort to fully understand the solar potential across Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe's tribal government facilities, staff worked with a consultant to produce a Solar Master Plan that provides building benchmarking, solar suitability, and solar PV designs and budgets where it makes sense.

We chatted with Brandy Toft, Environmental Deputy Director with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, to learn more about the plan.

One of the most positive outcomes is that the plan was put into use immediately upon completion—it has had no time to sit on a shelf as so many plans do.

Brandy Toft, Environmental Deputy Director with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

Can you tell us more about the Solar Master Plan effort?

Brandy Toft: The Solar Master Plan identified over 2.15 megawatts of solar PV installation potential. Beyond the long-term operational cost savings potential of solar PV at these facilities, the arrays represent economic and environmental benefit for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe as well. The 2.15 megawatts of priority solar represents a potential for 24 construction jobs and 4 long-term maintenance jobs.

The Solar Master Plan has allowed us to not only analyze our current potential solar applications on government buildings, it has also given us a path forward and an essential part of our next phase to implement an overall sustainability strategic plan. One of the most positive outcomes is that the plan was put into use immediately upon completion—it has had no time to sit on a shelf as so many plans do.

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe's Solar Master Plan covers the following for all of their tribal government facilities:

  1. Annual energy use data, calculated energy use intensity, and performance evaluation against peers
  2. Viability of solar PV
  3. Detailed solar PV concept design, potential annual energy generation, and preliminary project budgets

What has been Leech Lake's progress on solar?

Brandy Toft: Some of our solar work was done before the plan. The Band has been installing solar heating units in low-income homes within the community since 2008, part of a program intended to help those households save money on heating bills. In 2015 we began working with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) to successfully install a community solar garden across five sites to benefit low-income residents. That project eases the financial burdens of 100  Leech Lake families on energy assistance, with a yearly average of $22,000 worth of electricity produced.

Following the Solar Master Plan, we are now conducting structural integrity assessments at 30 buildings. The Band could install as many as 200 kilowatts per year once we are able to solidify our strategic plan. As the site assessments for solar PV move forward, we see a chance to expand the impact of our existing project to other families in need. Our goal is becoming more self-reliant and more sustainable, and just being better stewards for the seven generations.

What's next for your renewable energy efforts?

Brandy Toft: Beyond guiding our solar developments for years to come, the Solar Master Plan got LLBO started on an overall Sustainability Strategic Plan, which we will develop in the year to come with support from CERTs. The funding secured from CERTs will cover the cost of hiring a design professional to develop guidance, policies, and ordinances that will facilitate the implementation of the Band’s new initiatives. Our Sustainability Strategic Plan will have three main components:

  1. Solar readiness of new construction and major renovations
  2. Approaching net zero energy and overall sustainability of new construction and major renovations
  3. Electric vehicle readiness and infrastructure support

If folks have questions, can they reach out to you?

Brandy Toft: Sure! They can reach me at 218-335-7429 or [email protected].

  • Technology: Study of Solar Electric Potential
  • Central CERT Seed Grant: $4,600
  • Total Project Cost: $6,600
  • Other Funds: consultant’s in-kind contribution
  • Project Team: Brandy Toft and Ben Benoit (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe)
  • People Involved and Reached: 25

The whole process of applying for and receiving the CERTs funding was extremely pleasant. I am used to multiple revisions, confusing documentation, and unreachable staff. Staff were always responsive and helpful for making connections, too. Thank you for a clean, streamlined, and yet complete process.

Brandy Toft, Environmental Deputy Director with Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

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