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RREAL, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe win award for clean energy efforts

Rural Renewable Energy Alliance team members gather in front of the Community Solar for Community Action solar project. Submitted photo 1 / 2
Rural Renewable Energy Alliance workers install a community-based solar project. RREAL and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe installed five solar arrays to benefit low-income households. Submitted photo2 / 2

BACKUS—Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and project partners will be recognized for their innovative solar work at this year's Environmental Initiative Awards May 23.

The awards program, hosted by the nonprofit Environmental Initiative, annually honors innovative projects achieving extraordinary environmental, economic and public health outcomes by harnessing the power of partnership.

The partnership is being recognized in the energy and climate category.

Community Solar for Community Action is a community-based solar project aiming to develop place-based, 100 percent low-income community solar projects owned by the community and delivered to households qualifying for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

RREAL and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe designed and installed five solar arrays to create the first 100 percent low-income community solar array in Minnesota and on tribal lands. The project is anticipated to generate an estimated economic value equaling $25,533 during its first full year of energy production. Perhaps more importantly, the energy production over the life to the combined systems will avoid more than $900,000 in electricity costs and provide clean, reliable support for up to 100 additional low-income households annually for 30 years through the Leech Lake Energy Assistance Program, a news release stated.

Eligible households on the Leech Lake Reservation are often denied Federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program benefits due to insufficient funds. However, with access to clean energy, low-income communities can stabilize energy costs, reduce household energy burdens and benefit significantly, the release stated.

"We are humbled to receive this award for this impactful project with the Leech Lake Nation. It was such a successful project that we are working on scaling in Vermont and further in Minnesota," said Jason Edens, director of RREAL, in the release.

This pilot project utilizes partnerships between the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, RREAL, multiple utility companies, local governments, Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, Carolyn Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Headwaters Foundation, Initiative Foundation and Bush Foundation. This project operates throughout Cass, Beltrami, Hubbard and Itasca counties.

"Public-private partnership deserves to be recognized and celebrated, and RREAL is a great example of how those with diverse interests can come together to create something positive and lasting," said Mike Harley, executive director of Environmental Initiative, in the release.

Five project awards and two individual leadership awards will be presented on May 23 at the Nicollet Island Pavilion.

Environmental Initiative is a nonprofit organization that builds partnerships with business, government and nonprofit leaders to develop collaborative solutions to Minnesota's environmental problems. The organization has honored collaborative environmental projects through their annual awards program since 1994.

Dedicated to the mission of making solar energy accessible to people of all income levels, RREAL was established in 2000 as a private nonprofit organization in Minnesota.

Through its Solar Assistance Program, RREAL is delivering solar energy to low- income families as a lasting, clean and reliable solution to energy poverty. For more information, visit www.rreal.org or call 218-947-3779.

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