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Project Profile: Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Community Solar Garden, Minnesota

Aerial view of solar garden.

The Leech Lake solar garden to help residents in need, and it is part of the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Source: Credit to Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Project Name

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Community Solar Garden


Cass Lake, Minnesota

Project Sponsor / Borrower

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

Program Areas

Public-Private PartnershipValue Capture

Value Capture Techniques

Solar Energy Use & Right-of-Way Use Agreements


Other: Solar Garden (Farm)


To provide financial relief for the Leech Lake Band of the Ojibwe Tribe in central Minnesota, the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) built a community solar array with a grant from the McKnight Foundation and the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. The Federally recognized Ojibwe Tribe includes over 9,000 members on 865,000 acres, and 42 percent of the tribe members live below the poverty line.

The electricity generated from the community solar garden is designated to recipients of Minnesota's Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The 200-kilowatt (kW) solar array helps nearly 100 families in the tribe as an added resource to serve their energy needs. It consists of five ground-mounted, 40-kW arrays to make it visible to the community.

The community solar program sells power to tribal buildings and utilities, and uses the revenue generated to fund payments for low-income households on the Leech Lake Reservation. Specifically, the 200-kW capacity system is expected to produce about 235 megawatt (MW) hours per year. While a portion of that electricity will feed directly into tribal buildings that the tribe will pay for, the rest will be sold to local utilities. The tribe receives an average of $0.09 per MW from the utilities (approximately $25,000 per year) and this money goes directly toward the local energy assistance provider, allowing additional households to use electricity.

$887,000 ($490,000 from a State-issued grant and remaining funds from the following foundations: Minnesota Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund, Initiative Foundation, Bush Foundation, Headwaters Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Carolyn Foundation, and Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community)

Funding Sources
  • Energy-savings performance
  • Department of Energy
  • State of Minnesota
  • Minnesota Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund
  • Bush Foundation
  • McKnight Foundation
  • Carolyn Foundation
  • Initiative Foundation
  • Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community
  • Headwaters Foundation for Justice
Project Delivery / Contract Method

Energy-savings performance, design-build

Private Partner
  • Bush Foundation
  • McKnight Foundation
  • Initiative Foundation
  • Carolyn Foundation
  • Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community
  • Headwaters Foundation for Justice
Project Advisors / Consultants

Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL)



Duration / Status

Project was completed in July 2017.

Financial Status / Financial Performance

The $276,000 in annual energy savings will pay back the upgrades for the next 14 years for a net-zero project. The project was also aided by $490,000 in State grants in addition to donations from various foundations.

  • Energy cost savings/emission reduction
    • 2,728,278 kW/year in electrical savings ($276,000 annually)
    • 3,570,422 pounds (lbs.) of CO2
    • 2,969 lbs. of SOx
    • 2,871 lbs. of NOx
    • 2,213 Tons of CO2E (equal to 423 vehicles annually)
  • Students from Leech Lake Tribal College earned their solar installation licenses while constructing this array.
  • Leads Minnesota and the nation with the first community-installed solar garden designed to benefit low-income residents.
  • No direct payment by subscriber; enrolled through local energy assistance program.
  • Expands access within the tribe’s energy assistance program and to provide job training opportunities to Leech Lake Tribal College students.
  • The solar energy project fits in with a larger environmental effort at Leech Lake, including efforts to make the government and gaming Styrofoam-free, making government buildings more energy efficient and adding solar furnaces to buildings and houses.
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