Since 2008, Red Cloud Renewable has trained over 1,100 Native individuals from more than 70 tribes on how to build and install solar furnaces, roof panels, water pumps, and lighting at its 10-acre campus on the Pine Ridge Reservation called the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC).
RCREC is a “one-of-a-kind educational facility” founded by Henry Red Cloud, a Lakota elder and lifelong renewable energy advocate. It features indoor classrooms, a lab facility with state-of-the-art solar equipment and mock roofs, and student housing.
“Our goal is workforce development. We provide hands-on, renewable energy training, work experience, and certifications for Natives to be ‘rooftop ready’ and get good-paying, green jobs,” explains John Red Cloud (Oglala Lakota), RCR’s managing director who says that Native Americans make up only 3% of total solar workers in the U.S.
To improve that statistic, RCR has taken solar training on the road. Thanks to support from First Nations’ Green Jobs in Indian Country project, the organization bought a 16-foot towable trailer to haul solar equipment to real homes in real communities to offer on-the-job-training in solar-panel installation.
The homes must be owned by enrolled tribal members, who pay nothing for the installation in exchange for giving students this learning opportunity on top of their roofs.
“Our mobile solar training lab will allow us to visit our cousins across the country to open up the world of solar knowledge and provide jobs to many more of them,” says Red Cloud.
First mobile job DONE!
Twelve students, as well as a certified electrician and instructors, installed a 3.2-kilowatt solar roof system on the home of a tribal elder on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in Wagner, South Dakota.
“She had a huge power bill every month, so we really wanted to help,” says Red Cloud. Less than 5% of reservation homes have solar technology because it is so expensive ─ running about $10,000 for a job of this size, estimates Red Cloud.
The second mobile training and install on the Yankton Sioux Reservation is scheduled for this April. Plans are also in the works to drive the mobile training lab to the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Reservations to conduct workshops.
To encourage more Native women to enter the lucrative green job market, Red Cloud has applied for a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Energy to fund a new program he created called BRIDGE (Bridging Renewable Industry Divides in Gender Equality).
“It’s a 24-month program that will teach PV installation skills to ONLY Native women,” Red Cloud explains his big idea. BRIDGE will offer wraparound services, such as childcare and housing, to make it easier for women with children to get trained at RCREC.
The Lakota Native has secured a partnership with Amicus Solar Cooperative, which operates in all 50 states. The company’s executive director made a promise to Red Cloud. “They will offer a job immediately to any Native American woman that comes out of the BRIDGE program.”