You are here
Home > Community > Tribe’s energy goals advance with Brighton funding

Tribe’s energy goals advance with Brighton funding

Hurricane Irma had a big impact on the tribe’s communities across South Florida in 2017. Government operations were affected and electrical outages particularly plagued residents in Big Cypress and Brighton. The hurricane’s aftermath came with a monetary cost, too, as the tribe spent significant funds on propane and diesel to power electric generators.

Tribal officials have said the rural nature of Big Cypress (52,338 acres) and Brighton (35,805 acres) makes its electrical grids vulnerable even when significant storms are not involved – to the tune of about 100 events per year or about 20 hours or more per week.

Months after Hurricane Irma, Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. and the Tribal Council formed a renewable energy committee staffed with key personnel across the tribe to address such issues. One of its goals was to identify opportunities that would allow the tribe to move toward more self sufficiency in its energy demands. It launched a study on the feasibility of operating a tribal utility and began an evaluation of electrical use for more than 600 tribal-owned facilities. The committee also embarked on a “Seminole Rural Reservation Resiliency Initiative.”

The resiliency initiative recently bore fruit as the U.S. Department of Energy announced July 13 that $12 million has been set aside for 13 tribes for projects designed to reduce energy costs and increase energy security. The awardees, which included the Seminole Tribe, are also located in areas the DOE has identified as disproportionately
affected by climate change.

The tribe is now set to receive an award of $2.2 million to install solar PV (photovoltaic) panels and battery storage on the Brighton Reservation. The battery energy storage system (BESS) would be able to power four facilities in the case of an electrical outage – the health clinic, administration building, public safety building and the veterans building. A similar project is already underway in Big Cypress that would be available to power the Frank Billie Field Office, senior center, public safety complex and health clinic. Funds from competitive grants and cost sharing negotiations with the DOE have been in the works for many months.

The renewable energy committee argues that such projects have an increased urgency for the tribe because it depends on off-reservation providers for the energy it uses for both government operations and economic development. The tribe has no authority over state-regulated utilities and is subject to rate increases and supply interruptions. Unknown, but typically rising, future energy costs also affect the tribe’s ability to plan long-term, the committee has said. In addition, the majority of outside utilities that do produce energy for the tribe do so through burning fossil fuels, which create greenhouse gases and other emissions that have negative effects on the climate and environment.

With the solar PV systems, the tribe’s carbon footprint will be reduced in addition to millions of dollars it stands to save in local utility energy costs over the life of the project. Another added benefit is that tribal members can be trained on the construction, operation and maintenance of the systems and it is expected to serve as a model for other Native and non-Native communities across the country.

“It’s exciting to see the tribe moving through the process of energy infrastructure for energy resilience for its future,” Paul Backhouse, the senior director of the tribe’s Heritage and Environment Resources Office (HERO) and a member of the renewable energy committee, said. “[Brighton and Big Cypress] are the first of big transformations that we’ll see.”

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)
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