SERC Completes Energy Planning Project for the Trinidad Rancheria

Readers of this newsletter may recall that the Summer 2015 issue contained a short piece about an energy planning project we conducted for the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria. Funded by a grant from The Bureau of Indian Affairs Energy and Mineral Development Program, this multi-faceted project had the overall goal of reducing the tribe’s energy consumption, costs, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the implementation of energy efficiency measures and, possibly, producing renewable energy locally.

The project has since been completed and there is much to report.

Use Assessment
The initial phase of the project entailed a comprehensive assessment of recent energy use for the Rancheria’s multiple commercial facilities including the Cher-Ae-Heights Casino, the Seascape Restaurant, and tribal offices. Available information pertaining to the consumption of electricity, propane, diesel fuel, and gasoline, as well as the equipment involved, was cataloged. CasinoGreen, a PG&E subcontractor specializing in retrofits of Native American owned casinos, was responsible for examining the casino, while Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) covered the remaining facilities. RCEA also completed a comprehensive GHG inventory utilizing an Excel spreadsheet tool they developed in-house.

Results show electricity use in all tribal facilities accounts for 77% of energy costs and over 60% of all GHG emissions. Unsurprisingly, the casino is responsible for over 75% of total energy costs and more than 80% of all GHG emissions, but it is interesting to note that the Seascape Restaurant comes in second at 10% of costs and 9% of GHG.

Efficiency Assessment
Lighting accounts for a substantial portion of all electrical consumption, particularly for the casino, which operates around the clock. As lighting technology has changed considerably in recent years, the energy efficiency of available products greatly exceeds that of the equipment currently in use by the tribe. As a result there are great savings to be had by retrofitting their facilities.

CasinoGreen provided an extensive list of lighting upgrades for the casino, primarily focused on the replacement of existing equipment with new LED lamp, ballast and fixture packages. In total, the changes they suggest could save the tribe an estimated $21,000/year. Available rebates will defray the upfront installation costs considerably while the balance can be financed by PG&E’s Energy Efficiency Retrofit Loan Program. This zero- interest On-Bill Financing program for energy retrofits is paid off via normal monthly payments that credit the money saved due to the new equipment toward the loan balance, which is expected to be paid off in about four years.

In the early stages of the project, RCEA determined that the tribe could save more than $3,000/year by simply changing the Seascape’s PG&E account to a different rate. This was done with alacrity. Further recommendations for lighting and refrigeration efficiency upgrades could save an additional $2,600 annually for the restaurant. As with the casino, installation costs can be covered by rebates and On-Bill Financing. These improvements should pay for themselves in less than four years.

RCEA recommendations for the remaining facilities consist primarily of upgrading interior fluorescent tube lighting systems to LED technology, with some exterior lighting upgrades as well. These changes should have a payback period of just under five years.

Renewables
Following SERC’s examination of the potential for various on-site renewable energy resources, the project team concluded that solar electricity is the most economically viable technology for the tribe to pursue. We recommended three suitable sites for roof top installation: the Trinidad Pier bathroom and water treatment plant, the Trinidad Pier Guest House, and the tribal office building. These sites could accommodate systems of 8.2kW, 2.1kW, and 10.5kW respectively. As the Rancheria has sovereign nation status, they do not pay taxes, which in turn means that they do not qualify for the 30% tax credit or accelerated depreciation benefits available to those in the private sector. As a result, payback periods are noticeably longer (9 – 11 years) than for systems installed by private businesses with substantial tax obligations. Nevertheless, an investment in this technology would pay for itself over a reasonable time frame, and the electrical energy generated by these systems would continue to reduce the Rancheria’s dependence on PG&E long into the future.

Greenhouse Gases
If all of the recommendations discussed in this article were to be implemented, the tribe could reduce its GHG emissions by 65.2 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. This amounts to a nearly 10% reduction of the tribe’s estimated GHG emissions associated with current electricity usage levels.

SERC would like to thank the Trinidad Rancheria for the chance to perform this energy assessment work. We are pleased to have found numerous opportunities for the tribe to reduce energy costs, decrease GHG emissions, and increase energy security. We look forward to supporting the tribe in their future efforts to meet their sustainable energy goals.