Soboba Casino Resort gets boost from solar project

◆ By Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Building on its past success with solar projects at the Soboba Indian Reservation, the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians has partnered with Scale Microgrids for a project at its Soboba Casino Resort. The company will build and install a renewables microgrid, pairing 1.5MW of rooftop solar and a 6MWh energy storage system.

Scheduled to be completed in June 2024, Scale is building a microgrid with solar photovoltaic energy production and battery energy storage. The advanced microgrid controls know when the utility costs are highest or if there is an outage, proactively selecting the optimal energy source. In addition to reducing the facility’s GHG emissions footprint by the equivalent of 4,800 passenger vehicles, the system will enable mission critical operations to continue during utility outages.

The company said that Tribal communities historically suffer from higher service costs, higher interconnection fees, more blackouts or brownouts and remote and distant service locations.

“The impact of the Soboba Microgrid project goes beyond kilowatt-hours and savings,” Guillermo Gomez, Business Development Manager at Scale Microgrids, said. “It secures the community’s long-term energy sovereignty and will inspire more public and private sector distributed energy development efforts on Tribal lands.”

Gomez has led the project development, designing the microgrid around the needs of SCR and the community. He has also obtained grant funding for the project and continues to work on obtaining additional funding to support the project costs with assistance from Shea Hughes, Director of Business Development and Bryan Curtis, who provided project management and engineering support throughout the development process.

Gomez said the microgrid will substantially decrease the casino’s electricity expenditure, increase energy independence, reduce carbon footprint and provide energy backup for long- and short-term power outages.

“SCR is looking to be prepared for the energy future,” he said. “As electricity prices continue to increase drastically in the future, SCR will be prepared for increases by having its own onsite source of electricity generation.”

Soboba Tribal Council members said this project serves its mission to strengthen the Tribe’s sovereignty, self-sufficiency and prosperity. “We are responsible for helping our people and our land thrive for generations to come, and we believe this microgrid system is an important step towards advancing our objectives,” they said.

Jason Cozart is the Assistant General Manager at Soboba Casino Resort and a Tribal member. He said this project represents another step towards sustainability.

“Producing our own energy means removing at least some of the increasing uncertainty surrounding rising electricity costs,” he said. “When we can control inputs, especially those concerning utilities, we are better positioned to increase efficiencies and overall profitability.”

Cozart said the project will help control energy costs and re-allocate resources for other improvements. Having solar and battery backups will also help improve emergency response plans not only for SCR, but the Tribe as a whole.

“All new projects are exciting. However, I am looking forward to the learning opportunity that this project will present, not only for myself, but for the organization as a whole,” Cozart said. “I know the Tribal Council is committed to projects that will open up new revenue streams, protect Tribal sovereignty, and secure a future for all Soboba Tribal members. For me, I’m extremely grateful to have an opportunity to contribute to this, as well as future projects.”

The project was recently highlighted at the 2023 Reservation Economic Summit, a multifaceted event from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) featuring unparalleled access to respected tribal leaders, members of Congress, federal agency representatives, state and local elected officials and top CEOs on a national platform.

Soboba Tribal Council Chairman Isaiah Vivanco was among the panelists for a breakout session on April 5 that presented the challenges, solutions and funding opportunities of transitioning from a mostly centralized power generation system to a highly decentralized, resilient and independent renewable energy production system, including potential nexus solutions for Tribal gaming establishments and life-preserving medical facilities.

Moderator Chris Deschene, owner of a tribal energy and legal firm based out of Washington, D.C., is also the co-founder and current Executive Director for the National Inter-Tribal Energy Council, a national tribal energy trade association. Scale’s Gomez was also a panelist, as were Deputy Director, Office of Indian Energy, U.S. Department of Energy David Conrad and Christabelle Mull, General Manager for San Carlos Apache Tribe. The panel also presented lessons learned from their microgrid planning, development and financing goals to support next generation applications of microgrid technologies for Indian Country.

Gomez said an important goal of the Soboba project is to encourage more development of sustainable energy projects on Tribal lands.

“Tribal lands must lead the energy transition and cannot be left out of electrification opportunities as they historically have,” he said. “It is going to take a major push from both the public and private sectors to make sure businesses and communities on Tribal lands have equal access to sustainable energy. Our goal with our Soboba partnership is to lead the way and inspire many more of these types of projects regardless of which company or entity is building the microgrid. This project should be a model of what collaboration from private sector companies like ours and Tribes should look like.”

With local offices in Los Angeles and San Diego, the New Jersey-based Scale Microgrid Solutions is a vertically integrated distributed energy platform, with a core focus of designing, building, financing and operating cutting-edge distributed energy assets that offer cheaper, cleaner and more resilient power. With a team of energy and financing experts, Scale enables customers to take charge of their energy infrastructure and future-proof their businesses.

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Photo courtesy of Scale Microgrids

An artist’s rendering shows an aerial view of the Soboba Casino Resort after completion of the Scale Microgrids installation

An artist’s rendering shows an aerial view of the Soboba Casino Resort after completion of the Scale Microgrids installation