Feasibility Study: State - Tribal Partnership to Support Solar Energy

Principal Investigator(s):

Gabriel Chan, Associate Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs


Project summary:

Research is needed to assess the feasibility of establishing a partnership between MnDOT and the Red Lake Nation to develop a new solar energy project model to meet state and tribal energy needs and greenhouse gas reduction goals. Preliminary research suggests that a joint solar project could reduce carbon pollution while honoring tribal sovereignty and reducing energy costs for the state.

Red Lake Nation is exploring developing, or more likely co-developing, a solar project on tribal land and selling electricity to MnDOT under a virtual power purchase agreement (VPPA). The tribe's for-profit entity, Red Lake LLC, would own the array. The project could be financed upfront by Minnesota Power and/or a combination of third-party financial investors and grants like the Tribal Energy Development Capacity Grant or the Energy Infrastructure Deployment on Tribal Lands Grant. The solar array could be installed by a solar developer.

MnDOT could agree to purchase the renewable energy from the tribe for a fixed price. The tribe could provide renewable energy to the local power grid and receive the market price. MnDOT could continue to purchase electricity from the utility provider. Red Lake LLC or MnDOT would pay the difference between the power purchase agreement (PPA) price and the market price, depending on pricing levels. MnDOT would counter-balance the payment to the utility with the settlement transfer and use the renewable energy credits (RECs) to meet agency greenhouse gas emissions goals. Additional solar capacity could be stored using a battery.

The solar feasibility study will assess potential project locations and generate economic and performance estimates. MnDOT and the Red Lake Nation could use the research findings to develop a cost-effective VPPA for MnDOT to purchase renewable energy from the tribe. Findings from the research could inform similar partnerships between other tribal governments and agencies.

Project details:

  • Project number: 2022026
  • Start date: 04/2022
  • Project status: Active
  • Research area: Environment and Energy
  • Topics: Environment, Equity