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Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians - 2012 Project

Project Overview
Tribe/Awardee: Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians
Location: Palm Springs, CA
Project Title: Agua Caliente Wind/Solar Project at Whitewater Ranch
Type of Application: Feasibility
DOE Grant Number: DE-EE0005623
Project Amounts:
DOE: $223,194
Awardee: $36,128
Total: $259,322
Project Status: See project status
Project Period
of Performance:
Start: May 2012
End: November 2013


The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (ACBCI) plans to complete a feasibility study to evaluate a combined wind/solar power generation project on its Whitewater Ranch trust lands in southern California. As described below, this effort is a logical and necessary next step for ACBCI as it moves toward implementation of its renewable energy generation goals.

Project Description


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 since time immemorial. Agua Caliente not only strives to maintain its cultural heritage and past, but also provides support for the surrounding community. ACBCI activities have had multiple economic impacts on the Coachella Valley, stemming not only from the Tribe's years of casino operations, but also from the extensive holdings remaining in the Tribe's historic land base. The Tribe has been able to develop its resources to support the tribal government and the tribal community. In turn, the Tribe has also been able to support its neighboring governments and civic organizations that help make the area a strong and vibrant community. Future 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. Moreover, by investing in diverse and strategic economic ventures both on and off the reservation, the Tribe has forged a long-standing history as an economic engine for the entire Coachella Valley. As a conscientious neighbor, and as one of the largest employers in the Coachella Valley with nearly 2,400 people on payroll, the Tribe continually works with surrounding municipalities to create economic ventures that build a strong economy for the community as a whole.

In August 2005, the ACBCI was awarded a First Steps grant under the U.S. Department of Energy (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. Deliverables from the project included creation of an energy vision that adheres to the ACBCI's 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. This plan focused on 1) Utility Organization, 2) Western Area Power Administration Allocation, 3) Energy Management Goals, 4) Renewable Energy Generation Opportunities, 5) Energy Efficiency Building Codes, 6) Right of Way Documentation and Assessment, and 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. In 2009, ACBCI requested and was awarded funding from the DOE Tribal Energy Program for a solar feasibility and predevelopment study. That study is complete, and the final report was submitted in April 2011.

The study ruled out facility-scale solar projects at this time but indicated that a commercial-scale solar project at ACBCI's Whitewater Ranch location could provide the greatest benefits to ACBCI. However, this location is blessed with extraordinary wind resources in addition to its solar resources. During the period of the solar project feasibility study, ACBCI had ongoing discussions with a wind developer about wind development at Whitewater Ranch, and received ACBCI Council approval in late April 2011 to sign a Ground Lease Agreement for use of six acres of trust land at its Whitewater Ranch property. However, based on the limited amount of available land, ACBCI benefits from a wind project lease would be small due to various land use constraints. To date, ACBCI has not assessed wind resources at this specific site, nor completed any studies leading to project development.

While an ACBCI combination wind/solar project appears to have promise based on initial discussions and analysis, consideration of wind was prohibited by DOE during the past DOE-funded solar feasibility study, necessitating a separate feasibility study funding request for combined wind/solar, which is the subject of this project.

Project Objectives

As part of the First Steps project described previously, ACBCI tribal staff and Council developed the energy vision that formed the foundation of its Strategic Energy Plan, based on the ACBCI mission, vision, and values:

Energy vision: The overall vision of the ACBCI embraces the continuous provision of exceptional quality and service to all team members and guests. The availability of safe, reliable, affordable, and clean energy is critical to achieving this vision. Thus the Tribe is committed to further its goals for self-sufficiency, self-determination, and sustainable development through empowerment in the Tribe's energy interests; to ensure adequate supply and quality of energy to meet the reservation's present and future needs; and, thereby, contribute to the economies of the ACBCI and the surrounding Coachella Valley, consistent with the Tribe's dedication to a clean, safe, and secure environment.

Strategic energy goals and energy objectives are:

  • To meet the intent of, and realize, the ACBC Indians energy vision
  • To exercise tribal sovereignty and rights of self-determination
  • To utilize strategic energy management as a means to facilitate accomplishment of the Tribe's goals for creation of prosperity and enhanced quality of life for its members
  • To integrate energy management into the Tribe's pursuit of economic and community development goals
  • To utilize strategic energy management as a means to contribute to responsible and sustainable development on reservation trust lands and within the surrounding Coachella Valley
  • To determine energy management alternatives that can further the Tribe's goals for enhanced quality of life through improved reliability, safety, and affordability of energy services for the Tribe
  • To identify and act upon energy management alternatives, and/or viable energy efficiency, conservation, load management, and/or renewable generation projects that can facilitate economic and community development
  • To identify and act upon opportunities for development of tribal renewable energy resources that meet Tribal needs, consistent with the Tribe's mission to preserve resources, cultural heritage, traditional values, and beliefs
  • To evaluate and act upon the formation of an appropriate tribal utility entity, capable of advancing the Tribe's energy management objectives
  • To act upon current trends and policy changes that creates opportunities for empowering the Tribe in managing its energy affairs.

Project Scope

The objectives of this effort are to provide ACBCI with knowledge of wind/solar project potential at the site, so that it can proceed with development of such a project. Specific goals are to complete feasibility study activities for an ACBCI 10-MW combined wind/solar project focusing on:

  • Site-specific renewable resource assessment
  • Export market evaluations and interconnection considerations
  • Technology analysis
  • Environmental studies
  • Economic analysis
  • Benefit assessment
  • Preliminary system design
  • Training/operating and maintenance planning
  • Development partner selection
  • Financing plans.

This effort is intended to result in a comprehensive project plan sufficient for project development.

Project Location

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians inhabits and governs some 2,000 square miles of ancestral land in the Palm Springs, California, area. The Agua Caliente Indian Reservation comprises 31,000+ acres in the Southern California desert area known as the Coachella Valley, approximately two hours east of Los Angeles.

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 2011 funding opportunity announcement "Renewable Energy Development and Deployment in Indian Country" (DE-FOA-0000422) and started in June 2012.

The November 2012, March 2014, and May 2015 project status reports provide more information.

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

Project Contact

Jeanne Jussila
54041 Dinah Shore Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92262

Mark Dansby
54041 Dinah Shore Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92262