Thunder Valley making big move into solar energy

Published: Apr. 19, 2017 at 8:53 PM CDT
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An innovative housing and economic development effort under way on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is starting to take shape -- and this week is going green.

Not only are the first four Thunder Valley Development Corp. homes getting closer to completion, solar panels are being installed this week to start the project toward its goal of reaching energy independence.

Renewable energy experts from Gen Pro, a local company out of Piedmont, on Wednesday began showing about 20 folks at Thunder Valley how to install solar panels.

With a helping hand from Solar Mosaic, Sun Power, the Nathan Cummings Foundation as well as Gen Pro, 80 such panels are slated for installation this week as the project takes its first major step toward one of its main ambitions.

“The goal of this development is to produce one hundred percent of the energy needed for the community,” said Thunder Valley Executive Director Nick Tilsen.

He says that lofty aim has deep roots.

“We Lakotans have a belief that we're all related, that we're related to the land, that we're related to the environment that we're related to Mother Earth,” said Tilsen. “And if we're going to walk our talk and if we're going to live our indigenous values, then we need to be creating energy systems that have less of a negative impact on the environment.”

At Thunder Valley many things -- not just energy issues -- overlap to form a unique whole. While building homes they're also teaching home building job skills.

“It's not just about buildings being built,” said Tilsen. “It's about recognizing that we're building the capacity of our people to uplift ourselves out of poverty and provide real opportunities to meet the basic needs of our community and our people.”

The first four homes are scheduled for completing this summer.

“The only way that this doesn't happen is if we give up. And this is us not giving up,” said Tilsen gesturing toward the four nearly built homes.

But for this week, a week that includes Earth Day on Saturday, the focus is on the sun.

“This solar installation is kind of like the cross–section of everything that Thunder Valley is about,” said Tilsen. “It helps reduce energy costs for families. It helps create some training opportunities and potentially some jobs for local people here in the community and this is a way to not just talk about our relationship to the earth and protecting Mother Earth but it's a way to take action.”

Thunder Valley is planning an Earth Day celebration to mark the solar panel installation. It kicks off at noon on Saturday at Thunder Valley near Kyle. It is open to all.