Participants in a Red Cloud Renewable solar energy training course. (Courtesy of Red Cloud Renewable)
Pine Ridge-based solar energy nonprofit Red Cloud Renewable was awarded a $1.5 million federal grant to increase the number of Native American women working in the solar industry.
The grant is part of the Biden Administration’s “Investing in America” agenda aimed at achieving a 100% clean electricity grid by 2035 while boosting economic growth across the country. The grant is one of 12 nationwide with a total investment of $13.5 million.
According to the 2022 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, Indigenous workers make up 1% of the 330,000 solar energy employees across the country — and Indigenous women make up a fraction of that percentage.
“President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is accelerating the clean energy transition, resulting in the creation of hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs and boosting our growing clean energy economy,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm in a news release.
The Department of Energy expects solar energy will grow to between 500,000 and 1.5 million workers by 2035 to reach decarbonization goals.
That means there are plenty of job opportunities for Native Americans in South Dakota and across the country as that infrastructure is built, said John Red Cloud, managing director of Red Cloud Renewable.
Red Cloud Renewable is a training center focused on preparing students to enter the solar workforce or begin their own businesses. The program offers hands-on training over several months on how to install solar systems (including rooftop, ground mount and pole solar panels), installing over 1,000 solar systems and solar air furnaces since 2008. The installations are funded by donors.
Solar workers are paid $21 an hour for an entry level position and upwards of $28 an hour, nearly $60,000, depending on their experience, Red Cloud said.
“Companies are screaming for workers,” he added.
The program was started by Red Cloud’s father in 2008. His goal of Native involvement in the solar industry centered not only on self sufficiency but the spirituality of the sun to Indigenous people. For example, the Sun Dance is one of the most important ceremonies practiced by the Lakota and Plains Indians, as it is a time of renewal, according to Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center.
“We’re using a new way, solar technology, to honor the old ways,” Red Cloud said, “giving reverence and respect to the life-giving power that the sun provides.”
Red Cloud Renewable has worked with over 70 tribal nations since it started, training over 1,200 students. Red Cloud hopes the program can be replicated and scaled up on different reservations across the country.
This grant program will focus on expanding the number of Native women in the solar workforce by creating a mobile lab and offering family-centric services, such as on-site child care at the training center while students are attending class.
“Let’s dot the countryside with solar. Let’s help the trajectory to reach those carbon goals,” Red Cloud said. “That’s what we’re doing, and we think Pine Ridge is a place to provide that example. If it can be done on Pine Ridge, then it can be done anywhere.”
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