Sustainable Energy for the Yurok Nation

Yurok Energy Efficiency Training Week

SERC engineer Jim Zoellick explains solar hot water and solar electric technologies to Yurok tribe members participating in an intensive two week course on energy. (Photo Credit SERC)

The Yurok Tribe, whose remote homeland stretches from the seashore to the inland mountains of northwest California, are close neighbors of SERC. We have worked with the Yurok on a number of occasions, helping them to power a telecommunications repeater station with a SERC fuel cell and build an off-grid residential solar power system to provide tribal elders with reliable electricity. Communities located on the mountainous Yurok Reservation are among the last few in California that have never been connected to the statewide electric power grid…and are also some of the poorest in the state. This situation results in a population with special energy needs.

SERC recently launched a partnership with the Tribe to develop an ongoing Yurok energy program. The program’s goals are to improve energy security and reduce energy costs for Tribe members while providing energy-related job training and employment opportunities to the Tribe. The Yurok Tribal Council is also interested in achieving economic development using natural resources found on their reservation, including biomass, hydroelectric, and solar energy. However, the Tribe have made it clear that any energy development projects must minimize impacts on their land, their waters, and their many sacred cultural sites.

The Tribe has been awarded two grants by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to begin creation of their energy program. SERC is working under contract to the Tribe to help implement both grants. SERC’s activities with the Tribe to date include:

  • Providing quarterly trainings to tribal staff on practical energy topics.
  • Conducting a two-week intensive training course for Tribe members in residential energy efficiency auditing and the design, installation, maintenance, and repair of home renewable energy systems.
  • Providing training and ongoing field support to two energy specialists as they conduct house-by-house energy audits on the reservation and perform minor repair and maintenance of solar and microhydroelectric systems.
  • Creating a public outreach program to raise community energy awareness through brochures and direct one-on-one outreach.

The funding from DOE will also allow the Tribe to examine the feasibility of creating a tribal energy services utility. The energy audit data being collected will help us identify the unique energy needs on the Reservation. In addition, SERC is working with tribal staff to perform an inventory of the Tribe’s energy resources and determine what steps are necessary for the Tribe to increase its sustainable use of these resources, for the Tribe’s own use and possibly for export to bring needed income to the Tribe.

SERC’s relationship with the Yurok Tribe brings new opportunities to the Tribe and allows SERC to deliver on its commitment to increase reliance on clean energy in our north coast region.