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Native American tribe ditches dirty energy to build one of the largest solar farms in the US: 'Renewable is the new future'

The farm is expected to be operational in 2026.

The farm is expected to be operational in 2026.

Photo Credit: Sun Bear Solar Project

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe based in Towaoc, Colorado, has proposed the construction of a new solar farm on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation. The project has been dubbed Sun Bear, and in partnership with Canigou Group — an international renewable energy company — the farm would span 4,000 acres and feature 2.2 million solar panels, Electrek reported.

A project of this magnitude does not come cheap. The initial investment in the farm is already well over $1 billion, with officials expecting to begin construction later this year, according to KSUT. The farm is expected to be operational in 2026, with a maximum output of approximately 975 megawatts, per the project website.

To put that in perspective, that much electricity would be "enough clean energy to power more than 250,000 homes during peak generation," according to Sun Bear (or more reliably estimated as enough power for 215,000 homes, per the website). Construction will create up to 1,000 jobs and significant revenue for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, per Electrek.

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Despite the unprecedented anticipation for this project, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Canigou are still working out details, one of which is to whom the electricity will be sold. 

"We're thinking about the power needs within Colorado," Justin Passfield, Canigou Group co-founder and CFO, told KSUT. "But also, it makes sense not to transmit power too far from where you are. Having said that, we're going to be producing a large amount of power. So I'm not sure that all of it will be able to be consumed within Colorado."

While this uncertainty is bound to be settled in due time, the significance of the farm is still evident. 

In the growing movement away from dirty energy sources to clean ones such as wind and solar, this project and others are incredibly important. As a recent study showed, the more solar you install, the cheaper it gets. 

Battery storage also plays a major role in the transition. Tribes in California recently worked with power companies and others to help get a big battery storage project off the ground, in a deal also involving environmental groups that set aside 10 million acres of desert for conservation and recreation. 

"We, as the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, had been a fossil fuel tribe with oil and gas for a long time, probably over 50 years," Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Chairman Manuel Hart said, per Electrek. "Today, with the changes in legislation, global warming, and climate change, you can see the impact of what's happening to our world. So renewable is the new future right now."

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