Harnessing the Sun,
On the Pine Ridge Reservation
in South Dakota, solar air heating
helps ease crippling winter
heating bills, while providing jobs.
By MIKE KoSHMRL
Photos by DAN BIHN
34 March 2011 SOLAR TODAY solartoday.org
mike Koshmrl ( email@example.com) is SOLAR TODA Y’s assistant editor.
In the Great Plains snowbelt, the wintertime spike in utility costs is an annoyance for all, and burdensome for many. In Pine Ridge, S.D., per capita annual income is less than $6,300. Shannon County, home to 80 percent of the residents at Pine Ridge, is the second-most impoverished in the United States. Unemployment hovers near 90
percent. Life expectancy is 47 years for men and 54 years for women — among countries in
the Western Hemisphere, only Haiti is worse. A $300 monthly utility bill can mean holding
off on a trip to the grocery store, or forgoing refilling a prescription medication. In the worst
cases, when a storm has set in and a propane tank is empty, it can be deadly.
“We do lose elders here every year because of this,” said Richard Fox. Fox is national
program director at Trees, Water and People (TWP; treeswaterpeople.org), a nonprofit
headquartered in Fort Collins, Colo., that supports sustainable heat, light and cooking technology for native peoples across the Americas. “They run out of propane on the 25th, and