OCHELATA, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation is providing an eco-friendly boost to the Washington County Cherokee Association through the installation of rooftop solar panels on the community organization’s building, which is expected to lower their yearly utility bill costs by nearly half. 

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner, Secretary of Natural Resources Chad Harsha, District 12 Tribal Councilor Dora Patzkowski, Francis Solar executive David R. Jankowsky and Washington County Cherokee Association Treasurer Richard Stephens celebrated the panel installation on Sept. 28. 

The renewable energy project is part of the $30 million Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act created by Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner in 2019. Twenty-five percent of funds through the Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act are set aside to help Cherokee citizens with housing repairs and to upgrade Cherokee community buildings with connectivity and sustainability projects such as solar power, HVAC systems and Wi-Fi connectivity.

“This is a fairly new community building, but during COVID-19 we installed some high-end efficient cooling and freezing units in the building to help Cherokee families in the area fight food insecurity, and this led to higher electricity costs,” Chief Hoskin said. “We’ve now invested over $7 million just in the energy efficacy for community buildings under the Housing, Jobs, and Sustainable Communities Act and today we are here in Washington County celebrating their solar roof top that’s going to reduce its cost by about $1,000 a year.”

The environmental savings is the equivalent of taking three vehicles off of the road, planting more than 9,000 trees and saving more than 400,000 pounds of coal.

“The beauty of solar panels is the input is entirely free. It’s from the sun. Therefore, you can produce power without having to pay for any of the input. So those are savings that this community will enjoy. Those savings can be used for other great things for the community to do other than pay the electric company. That’s why these solar systems are so great for these communities,” Jankowsky said.

The solar panel project is distributed through the tribe’s Community & Cultural Outreach sustainability grant, which is meant to fund green-energy friendly efforts and other cost-savings technology in Cherokee community buildings across the tribe’s 14-county reservation.

“Naturally, it’s a community building and there’s times where all we are doing is keeping the coolers cool and keeping the heating and ventilation system working,” Stephens said. “The panels will reduce that monthly cost.” 

The Cherokee Nation has also assisted Mid County Community Organization in Adair County, Native American Fellowship Inc. in Nowata County, Tri-Community Association in Cherokee County, Neighborhood Association of Chewey in Adair County, Rogers County Cherokee Association in Claremore, and Spavinaw Youth & Neighborhood Center with rooftop solar panel installations.