Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians - 2010 Project

Project Overview
Tribe/Awardee: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
Location: Palm Springs, CA
Project Title: Agua Caliente Band (Solar) Feasibility and Pre-Development Study
Type of Application: Feasibility
DOE Grant Number: DE-EE0002507
Project Amounts:
DOE: $150,000
Awardee: $38,102
Total: $188,102
Project Status: See project status
Project Period
of Performance:
Start: March 2010
End: May 2011


The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (ACBCI) will conduct a feasibility and predevelopment study of potential solar projects on its lands in southern California. The project will focus on evaluating opportunities for solar power at larger ACBCI facilities and on its lands and allow ACBCI to complete its next logical step in implementing its Strategic Energy Plan, consistent with its energy and sustainability goals.

Project Description


Since time immemorial, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (ACBCI) has inhabited and governed some 2,000 square miles of ancestral land in the Palm Springs, California area. Today, the tribe has more than 400 members and a community base that includes families, businesses, and civic organizations. Agua Caliente strives not only to maintain its cultural heritage and past, but also to provide support for the surrounding community.

In August 2005, the ACBCI was awarded a First Steps grant under the U.S. DOE Tribal Energy Program, to engage in development of a comprehensive tribal energy plan designed to integrate with the tribe's overall planning and economic development goals, and align with tribal cultural, social, political, and spiritual values. The process involved building tribal capacity within the areas of energy management, utility services, and energy technology development and commercialization and energy generation and delivery. Deliverables from the project included creation of an Energy Vision that adheres to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians' overall vision, mission, and goals, and identification of a set of viable energy options that ultimately led to the development of an actionable Strategic Energy Plan. Primary initiatives identified in the Strategic Energy Plan are listed below:

  • Recommendation #1: Utility Organization
  • Recommendation #2:WAPA Allocation
  • Recommendation #3: Energy Management Goals
  • Recommendation #4: Renewable Energy Generation Opportunities
  • Recommendation #5: Energy Efficiency Building Codes
  • Recommendation #6: Right of Way Documentation and Assessment
  • Recommendation #7: Energy Technology

Since completion of the First Steps project, and following ACBCI Tribal Council approval of the Strategic Energy Plan initiatives in September 2006, the Tribe has already implemented, or has under way, the majority of recommended initiatives.

ACBCI's comprehensive WAPA analysis was completed in 2008, when ACBCI finalized a benefit crediting agreement with Aha Macav Power Service (Fort Mojave Indian Tribe) that provided for a 20-year agreement between ACBCI and Aha Macav Power Service.

During 2007-2008, ACBCI co-formed an energy project LLC known as the Southwest Tribal Energy Consortium, selected a development partner, and prepared several proposals in response to California investor-owned utility request for proposals (RFPs) for renewable energy. In addition, during 2008–2009, ACBCI moved forward to install solar rooftop photovoltaic (PV) on its Indian Canyons Trading Post, a small, single story combination visitor center and retail shop located at the mouth of Palm Canyon. Construction of a 6 kW solar PV system and backup battery system has been completed.

From 2007 to 2009, ACBCI made considerable progress toward the creation of a utility entity, culminating in ACBCI Tribal Council approval on April 7, 2009, of the ACBCI Water and Energy Resource Authority (ACBCI WERA), put in place to coordinate multiple efforts related to ACBCI's long-term energy plan. ACBCI WERA efforts to establish water and energy and footprints were completed, which will allow the ACBCI WERA to establish initial water and energy management goals and to establish water energy codes, ordinances, and permitting processes.

This project represents the next logical step for ACBCI to pursue renewable energy generation project opportunities focusing on ACBCI reservation-located solar opportunities.

Project Objectives

The goals of this effort are as follows:

  • Evaluate the feasibility of two primary solar project types: larger, facility-scale projects serving major ACBCI facilities, and commercial-scale solar projects connected to the grid.
  • Prepare pre-construction studies and documents in anticipation of 2010/2011 construction.

Economic development is critically important to ACBCI as the tribe continues to establish a vibrant and viable future for its people for generations to come. ACBCI recognizes that diversification is key to sustainable tribal economic and community development, and, particularly in California, energy is a means to that end. From a project development and ownership perspective, ACBCI believes that the opportunity to have an equity interest in the project will provide potentially significant economic gain in an industry other than gaming. Energy savings and emission reductions are possible for ACBCI large facility–scale solar projects at several locations. Emission reductions for a hypothetical 3 MW solar plant operating at full capacity are estimated to be 66,795 tons of CO2 over a 25-year project life. Energy savings for that plant would reduce ACBCI existing electric load by roughly 16%.


The Agua Caliente Solar Feasibility and Development Project will focus on evaluating opportunities for solar power at larger ACBCI facilities and on its lands. Large, facility-scale and commercial-scale project opportunities will be assessed at several locations. The project will be organized as two separate, but interrelated studies, undertaken in parallel. Each study will identify specific sites; consider solar technology options, interconnection/transmission access, and environmental reviews; and utilize complex financial models to evaluate project economics under a range of ownership and incentive scenarios. Each will result in a development plan and/or RFP for construction. The effort will be managed by the newly formed tribal utility entity established in April 2009. As each major task is completed, the selected consultant will provide project status reports to the ACBCI representatives and meet with the team on an ongoing basis.

The proposed solar project(s) being evaluated may be able to provide dependable long-term power to ACBCI facilities and to the reservation overall, at lower cost, and with less price fluctuation than at present, all with considerably less environmental impact than from fossil fueled generation. ACBCI will have more control over its energy costs and potentially be able to provide electric service to other businesses being considered.

Project Location

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians has inhabited and governed some 2,000 square miles of ancestral land in the Palm Springs, California area. The Agua Caliente Indian Reservation is comprised of 31,000+ acres in the southern California desert area known as the Coachella Valley, approximately two hours east of Los Angeles. The primary solar project sites under consideration would focus on four distinct locations within the reservation.

Project Status

The project is complete. For details, see the final report.

The project was competitively selected under the Tribal Energy Program's fiscal year 2009 funding opportunity announcement, "Assessing the Feasibility of Renewable Energy Development and Energy Efficiency Deployment on Tribal Lands," and started in March 2010.

The November 2009 and October 2010 presentations provide more information.

For current project status or additional information, please contact the project contacts.

Project Contact

Jeanne Jussila
5401 Dinah Shore Parkway
Palm Springs, CA 92262

Mark Dansby
5401 Dinah Shore Parkway
Palm Springs, CA 92262