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About those power outages: Renewables come to Big Cypress, Brighton

Solar panels like these will be used to harness the energy of the sun for battery powered storage on the Brighton and Big Cypress reservations. (Image via Facebook)

HOLLYWOOD — The tribe’s leadership wants electric power disruptions on the Big Cypress and Brighton reservations
to become a relic. An ongoing plan to use solar power and battery storage to achieve that goal has made considerable progress in recent months. The project is the first of its kind for the tribe.

Harvey Rambarath, assistant director of Community Planning & Development at the tribe, gave an update on the “rural
reservation resiliency projects” to attendees of the fourth “Renewable Energy and Sustainability Conference” that took place online Feb. 22 to Feb. 24 through the Native Learning Center in Hollywood.

Once completed, Rambarath said Big Cypress and Brighton would have a battery energy storage system (BESS) charged by solar panels. The battery storage would power generators at four different sites on each reservation so that essential services for tribal members wouldn’t be disrupted during outages. It means less reliance on outside utility companies.

The rural nature and large size of Big Cypress and Brighton make both more susceptible to outages from storms. Resiliency efforts were set into motion by Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. soon after Hurricane Irma caused significant power outages on both reservations in 2017 and affected government operations.

Chairman Osceola would subsequently launch an energy committee to take a holistic look at renewable energy and sustainability projects the tribe could embark on. It was also the impetus for the annual conference – where tribal members and those who work on behalf of Indian Country share information and ideas on similar efforts.

The Big Cypress project is scheduled to be completed first. Rambarath said it’s now at a stage where solar panel configurations are being finalized at each location – the Frank Billie Field Office, senior center, health clinic and public safety complex. The solar panels are mounted in varying styles, such as on an existing rooftop or on the top of newly constructed carports in existing parking lots.

Rambarath said 60% of the design-build process for Big Cypress is completed and has been submitted to the tribal inspectors office for permitting. He expects permits to be issued over the next three months, for construction to begin in June, and for the project to be completed sometime in November.

Rambarath said the Brighton project is in the request for proposals (RFP) stage, but the project will also involve four essential facilities – the administration building, public safety building, veterans building and the health clinic.

Both projects were awarded grant money from the Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs.

Rambarath said the initiative would not only mitigate future power outages, but would save the tribe money by offsetting its energy needs for each building – 30% for Big Cypress and 26% for Brighton.

“During outages the BESS kicks in and runs the facility for at least three hours,” Rambarath said. “If the outage continues, the generator kicks in and recharges the battery system and powers the facility.”

Rambarath likened it to a hybrid vehicle that uses fuel and electric charge – vacillating between the two.

“We are going to be saving a lot of wear and tear on the generators,” he said. “In the event of another hurricane with extended outages, the generators won’t be running nonstop for weeks on end.”

In addition, Rambarath said the tribe intends to train and employ tribal members to maintain both projects and added that the tribe is also considering installation of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the future.

Florida Seminole Commerce

Meanwhile, tribal members Gem Osceola and John Osceola both presented at the conference on behalf of their business – Florida Seminole Commerce. Emre Erkul, an adviser, and Ed Wise, founder and CEO of PositivEnergy, joined them.

Wise spoke about how the tribe could eventually become its own utility company – controlling its own energy through green technologies – while also generating revenue streams.

John Osceola, the owner of Florida Seminole Commerce, said he’s helped facilitate the process of exploring such options between PositivEnergy and STOF Inc., Seminole Gaming and Hard Rock International — projects like infrastructure for EV charging stations.

Osceola said his company has already facilitated uninterrupted power supply (UPS) projects and other power backup
solutions for tribal interests.

“Florida Seminole Commerce handles a broad range of projects. Our main goal is to bring different opportunities and solutions to the Seminole Tribe and surrounding communities,” Osceola said. “In the case of our partnership with PositivEnergy, we aim to bring sustainable energy solutions to tribal nations.”

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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