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A Nation's Solar System: the Delaware Nation Moves to Sun Power and Solar Manufacturing

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While wind farms reign in the State of Oklahoma, the Delaware Nation is capitalizing on the sun. "Solar is more universally applicable technology—the sun shines pretty much everywhere," Bob Magyar, managing director for Unami Solar, the tribe's Trenton, New Jersey-based project developer and consulting firm, told Indian Country Today Media Network. "Analyses done by the federal government show nearly every inch of the Earth gets sunshine, even given variations in weather."

A solar array is under construction on the Delaware Nation tribal complex roof in Anadarko, Oklahoma. LED (light emitting diode) lights, which consume less energy and last longer, will soon replace incandescent lights in the nation's headquarters. And the tribe's Sandy, Utah-based supply and manufacturing firm Lenape Lighting and Manufacturing, LLC, will soon produce LED lights, while Unami Solar will concentrate on solar modules. The tribe is contemplating a separate business arrangement with an
established solar manufacturer to produce solar modules for clean energy companies—prospectively on an international scale.

"Green technology is the wave of the future and it certainly fits in with our culture. We might as well embrace that and make it a part of our economic development," Delaware Nation President Kerry Holton told the Associated Press.

The 37.5-kilowatt solar array, currently being built by Escondido, California-based Eco One Energy, LLC, will initially supply roughly 30 percent of the building's electricity. Magyar expects the solar panels to be fully installed and commissioned—with the system approved by the local electric utility Caddo Electric Cooperative—by August 1.

Then, adding LED lights to the tribal complex will further cut back on electricity. "By decreasing the [electricity] load in the building, the solar system will end up powering around 60 percent of the building overall, maybe a little more," Magyar told ICTMN.

The move to solar energy will help the nation save thousands of dollars, and Holton anticipates a return on the tribe's investment within five to eight years. To fund the project, the tribe matched a $250,000 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant, inspired by the Obama Administration's added emphasis on clean energy initiatives in 2009 and its increased encouragement for tribes to pursue wind, solar and geothermal power, meanwhile diversifying their business interests.

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Kylah McNabb, a renewable energy specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, assisted the Delaware Nation on obtaining the grant from the DOE. McNabb said the Delaware Nation's project is thought to be the first major solar energy project started by a tribe in the United States.

"This project truly has the potential to set an example for Oklahoma, to set an example for the other tribes about what can be done when you take a focus on green initiatives and really put your mind to it. This is a technology that works," she told the AP.

The Delaware Nation is taking its clean energy initiative to the next level and hopes to play a role in solar development projects across North and South America, said Magyar. The tribe is currently training assembly line employees to manufacture LED lights and solar array parts at its Anadarko-based Lenape Lighting and Manufacturing plant. "Assembly of the LED lighting will begin in earnest probably in about 60 days," Magyar told ICTMN.

Owned by the Delaware Nation, Lenape Lighting and Manufacturing—with offices in Anadarko, Oklahoma; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Monument, Colorado—has applied for Super 8a status under the U.S. Small Business Administration and is targeting the federal government, military and government contractors as clients.

When Lenape Lighting adds solar manufacturing to its credentials, it will create even more jobs throughout southwestern Oklahoma and Anadarko, a city proud to bill itself as "Indian City USA." Currently about 12 people work at the Anadarko-based plant, and Holton projects those numbers will increase to 100 within a year, reported the AP.

When Lenape's business takes off, the Delaware Nation hopes to play a role in solar projects throughout Indian Country, the U.S. and potentially worldwide. "On a national scope, we hope to sell [solar] modules and LED lighting in other states and areas within a given market," Magyar told ICTMN, adding that solar modules are "universal." Lenape and Unami Solar will manufacture products that can be "shipped anywhere," Magyar explained.