2017 Wrap Up

The Ipai Solar team continues to move forward with its community solar project as a part of the US Department of Energy “Solar in Your Community Challenge.” The team has reached some important milestones in 2017 and hopes to begin construction during the summer of 2018. This year, the Ipai Solar team has completed the engineering design and conducted extensive community outreach. The next step is to apply for interconnection.

One of the team’s primary goals was to select a site physical site for the solar farm and complete the engineering design. As discussed in the Blog Post “First Quarter Goals: Site Selection” the team was originally deciding between three potential sites on the San Pasqual Reservation. As late as October 2017, the team had planned to build the solar farm as a part of a shade structure over one of the parking lots near the administrative building. However, the team found that the additional costs associated with the parking structure would likely outweigh the financial savings generated by the solar system. Therefore, the team reevaluated the three potential sites. The Ipai Solar team now plans to construct the solar farm on the “Red Lot”—a nearby parking lot on tribal trust land. GRID Alternatives led the engineering process and designed a solar system that would consist of 532 solar modules and produce 274.4 megawatt hours per year.

As GRID Alternatives worked on the design, the San Pasqual Environmental Department led consistent community engagement initiatives both on and off the Reservation. On the Res, the Department held a community solar night and also gave a presentation at an elders Luncheon. Given that this will be the first community solar installation for the tribe, the Ipai Solar team must carefully explain the concept of community solar to potential customers. The Ipai Solar team now has a running list with more than 25 tribal residents interested in participating in the community solar project.

Team members have taken advantage of multiple opportunities off the Reservation to share lessons-learned as well. This year, the San Pasqual Environmental Department hosted the Tribal EPA Section 9 Conference and was able to speak with leaders from other tribes about the Ipai Solar Project. A member of the Ipai team also gave a poster presentation at Duke University as a part of the University’s Energy Conference this November. The team continues to share its learnings from this project with communities across the country.

With the completed design and a running list of prospective customers, the team is now ready to apply for interconnection from the local utility. The team plans to organize a meeting with the local utility in early 2018 to discuss the project and prepare the interconnection application. After the interconnection process is complete, the team will be well-positioned to begin construction next summer.



Community Solar Night!

This Thursday, October 26, 2017, the Ipai Solar Team will be hosting a Community Solar Night on the San Pasqual Reservation. The goal of the event is to introduce potential community solar participants to the concept of shared solar farms. Specifically, the Ipai Solar Team will give a brief presentation on the proposed solar farm and the potential for savings and explain how this project is unlike any of the other opportunities for solar currently available to tribal residents.

The team plans to host one more introductory Community Solar Night before the end of the year and will host a Workshop for enrolled customers in early 2018.

First Quarter Goals: Site Selection

The Ipai Solar Team determined that the first step towards building a community solar farm on the San Pasqual Reservation would be site selection. Finding a good site for the solar project is a critical first step because it impacts every aspect of the project. Although the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians has access to more than 3,000 acres of both developed and undeveloped land, the Ipai Solar Team quickly realized that choosing a community solar site was not as simple as anticipated.

The Ipai Solar Team originally considered three potential solar sites. The first site—dubbed “The Famous Forty”—spanned 40 acres of undeveloped property on fee land. The second site, known as the “Red Lot” was a parking lot used for casino buses and occasional cultural events. Lastly, the team examined the parking lot adjacent to the Tribal Hall and Administrative building.

After a group visit to the Famous Forty, the team quickly determined that that site would not be a  good fit for this project. The undeveloped land included hills, ravines, large boulders, and numerous oak trees. The cost of terracing slopes and removing tons of rock was bound to damage the project economics and add months to the timeline. The area along the bottom of the ravine was relatively flat but lined with oak trees. California State law protects native oak trees, which are currently threatened by numerous invasive species, so anyone looking to remove oak trees must obtain special permits.


The team would be required to obtain not only tree removal permits on the Famous Forty, but also San Diego County solar permits because the property is “fee land.” Approximately 2,000 acres of “trust land” and 1,000 acres of “fee land” constitute the San Pasqual Reservation. Trust land refers to property to which the US federal government holds title on behalf of the tribe.[1] Tribes determine their own permitting process for projects on trust land as these areas are not subject to state permitting rules. Fee land, however, is owned by individuals and not held in trust by the US government. Fee land is subject to county, state, and federal taxes and relevant permitting requirements.[2] Given the geographical complications and additional permitting requirements by San Diego County, the team determined that the Famous Forty is not a viable site for this project.

The team then considered two sites located on tribal trust land. Both the Red Lot and the parking lot adjacent to the Tribal Hall make excellent potential solar sites because the tribe has already leveled and developed the land. Furthermore, both sites are located on trust land. The Ipai Solar Team, however, has decided to use the smaller parking lot near the tribal government buildings. A community solar farm—built as a car port—would provide valuable shade to tribal government employees and serve as a centrally located educational project. The Environmental Department had anticipated eventually using the parking lot for a solar car port and even put conduit under the cement during construction.

Having selected the solar site, the Ipai Solar Team will now proceed with financial modeling and customer engagement. Now that the team knows what kind of space it has to work with and what kind of infrastructure is required for the installation, it can estimate the total cost of the project and the anticipated energy production. This, in turn, will enable the team to have realistic conversations with potential customers about payments and savings. The Ipai Solar Team is proud to have accomplished its first hurdle and looks forward to charging forward with the Solar in Your Community Challenge!

[1] Bureau of Indians Affairs, Frequently Asked Questions

[2] Montana State University, “Planning for the Passing of Reservation Lands to Future Generations”

Press Release: Ipai Solar to Bring Community Solar to the San Pasqual Reservation

Ipai Solar to Bring Community Solar to the San Pasqual Reservation

Ipai Solar wins up to $60,000 from US Dept. of Energy

May 2017, San Diego, California — Ipai Solar, a team of four clean energy organizations, was selected by the US Department of Energy to participate in the SunShot Initiative’s Solar in Your Community Challenge, a $5 million prize competition that aims to expand solar electricity access. The San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, a federally recognized tribe in Southern California, will lead the team and use the $60,000 award to enable tribal residents to go solar.

Over the next 18 months, the Ipai Solar team plans to install 155 kilowatts of community solar on the reservation. Because the tribal government is the owner of reservation land, residents will participate in aggregated net metering. The tribe will pay for the solar system through a discounted prepaid power purchase agreement that leverages the federal investment tax credit. Ipai Solar aims to create a model that tribes across the country can use to go solar.

“More than 80 homes on the San Pasqual Reservation already have solar installations, but this project will bring us our first community solar farm,” said John Flores, Director of the San Pasqual Environmental Department. Allen Lawson, Tribal Chairman of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians added, “Traditional energy policy often fails to consider tribal land ownership rules, so our residents are unable to take advantage of the abundant solar resource on the reservation. By participating in this national competition, we hope to demonstrate how tribes can participate in community solar programs.”   

Ipai Solar’s project will enable 25 San Pasqual residents to receive net metering credits from a community solar farm. GRID Alternatives San Diego will provide solar construction training and certification to local residents. The team will use CollectiveSun’s affordable financing model, which will lower the cost of the solar project. Over time, residents will pay for their share of the solar farm, thereby improving their personal credit scores, through the tribal Community Development Financial Institution.

This project leverages pre-existing tools in a way that has never been done before. Tribal residents will benefit from community solar policies and the federal investment tax credit. This unique combination will enable the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians and other tribes nationwide to access affordable community solar.

“We’re excited to be part of the Ipai team, bringing solar savings and solar jobs to the San Pasqual Band—and hopefully to tribes throughout the country who have been left out of the transition to clean, renewable energy” said GRID Alternatives San Diego Director Paul Cleary.

Ipai Solar will join hundreds of other teams from around the country in their pursuit of solar projects that expand solar access to low- and moderate-income households and nonprofit organizations. Teams participating in the Solar in Your Community Challenge will compete for $1 million in final prizes, which will be awarded by judges based on each project’s innovation, impact, and replicability.

About Ipai Solar

The Ipai Solar Team includes the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, CollectiveSun, GRID Alternatives San Diego, and the Center for Sustainable Energy. The team will participate in the Solar in Your Community Challenge to design and implement a new model for tribal community solar.

About the Solar in Your Community Challenge

The Solar in Your Community Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative and administered by SUNY Polytechnic Institute, is a $5 million prize competition that aims to expand solar access to low- and moderate-income households; and state, local, and tribal governments; and non-profit organizations. More information about the selected teams and the Solar in Your Community Challenge is at

About the SunShot Initiative

The U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative is a national effort to drive down the cost of solar electricity and support solar adoption. SunShot aims to make solar energy a low cost electricity source for all Americans through research and development efforts in collaboration with public and private partners. Learn more at