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Donoma Energy promises green off-the-grid ‘economic sovereignty’

TEMECULA, Calif. – A new Native-owned green energy company is promising to move tribal nations toward economic sovereignty by helping them develop their own renewable energy resources and getting off the grid.

Donoma Energy was founded late last year, but the concept of a company building and maintaining solar- and wind-powered energy facilities exclusively in Indian country had been brewing for a while, said John James, Donoma’s executive vice president and co-founder.

“We’ve been doing this for quite some time and when we talk to everybody out there about getting them to be self-sufficient in terms of their energy needs, it’s huge. Native Americans love their land, they want to use their land and their natural resources and we want to bring them the tools to help them achieve that. They can use the natural resources of solar or wind power – or a combination of both – to get off the grid, the grid being the utility companies outside of Indian country.”

Other company co-founders are brothers Frank and Ed Magdaleno, president and board member, respectively, and Daniel J. Tucker, board member. Although Tucker is the chairman of the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Nation, Donoma is not affiliated with the tribe; Tucker is involved in the company as a private individual.

The four partners collectively have more than six decades of experience in project development and construction in utilities, telecommunications and alternative energy.


Photo courtesy Donoma Energy Donoma Energy is a new Native-owned energy company formed to develop and maintain solar- and wind-powered energy exclusively in Indian country. The company aims to help tribes move toward self-sufficiency by getting off the national electricity grid. Co-founders, from left, are President Frank Magdaleno; board member Ed Magdaleno; board member Daniel J. Tucker; and Executive Vice President John James.

According to Frank, Ed has worked on green energy tribal projects in southern California for almost two decades and brings not only technical expertise but a wide network of connections in Indian country to the company.

“That’s something he’s wanted to do throughout Indian country – to help tribes as he’s done in California. We also want to help with education in terms of the new energy that’s evolving year to year, and be a source to implement it, and also help tribes in an economic sense because having their own renewable energy to provide their own energy needs will take them off the grid systems so it will hold their bottom line and provide revenues for other ventures, like community centers, schools and health centers.”

Renewable energy generation that meets a nation’s needs benefits tribes of any size, because the money stays in the tribe, James said.

“It doesn’t go to the big utility company – that’s just money gone. You’re just renting the power and every month that bill goes out and you’re not seeing anything in return except your lights going on. Our goal is to bring in the sun power, bring in the wind power so the tribes can be self-sufficient and the money that now goes to the big corporations stays in their communities.”

Getting off the grid can generate more than electricity for a tribe, Frank said.

“There are several cities and towns that form their own utilities; they buy power off the grid and re-sell it with a mark up so they make a profit. The same thing could happen with the tribes. They could completely come off the grid. They are sovereign lands and they could produce as much energy as they need and sell energy back into the grid.”

Donoma does everything from consultation to finance, design, engineering, construction and installation, landscaping and maintenance.

The company also offers turnkey solar and wind energy products and complete packages, a kind of one-stop shopping for solar modules, inverters, mounting structures and enclosures, batteries and accessories, battery chargers, solar charge regulators and controllers, and wind generators.

There is an outlay of capital to construct a solar or wind powered utility, but Donoma projects a four-to-six year payback period for large projects and a shorter timeframe for smaller projects. Regardless of the size of a project, the payback timeframe shortens as the cost of electricity goes up, Frank said. Currently, the cost is expected to increase by approximately 10 percent a year.

With grants and stimulus money available there could even be no initial costs for a tribe, James said.

“There’s money out there right now for tribes. So when we talk about initial investment as part of the payback, with stimulus money and some grants we can work on, there would be no cost investment for some tribes. We can get money for them in some cases that will pay for the project.”

But there are timeframes for grants and the stimulus funds.

The deadline for current solar grants is June 25. Others will be available later this year.

Stimulus requests must be submitted by December 2010 for alternative energy. That may sound like a long time away, James said, but it isn’t when you consider the application process, preparing the design and turning over all the paperwork.

“The stimulus grants are on a first come, first served basis.”

Shovel ready projects – those that are already planned, designed or ready for construction – will be fast-tracked.

Donoma has the staff from attorneys to grant writers, designers, engineers and construction people to take a project from concept to reality, James said.

Frank said the company works with tribes to bring cultural sensitivity to the work.

Donoma staff is also available to give a second opinion on already designed projects to make sure everything is correctly planned and priced out even if the company doesn’t get the job, James said.

“Our main goal is to give back.”

“It makes us feel good to make a difference,” Frank said.