TOCC helps develop sustainable energy

Nov 6th, 2012 | By | Category: 24-2: The Future of the Tribal College Movement, Tribal College News

SOLAR FUN. Counterclockwise from left: Tom Young and TOCC student Duran Andrews prepare to help TOCC student and agriculture intern Zade Arnold and TOCC Extension Agent and Student Learning Farm Manager Clifford Pablo set up a drip irrigation system for display at Pisinemo Solar Day in May 2012.

What are our energy needs? And how can a remote, rural community best use solar, wind, and other sustainable energy sources?

These two questions were the focus of a recent project in which Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC, Sells, AZ), the University of Massachusetts–Lowell (UMass-Lowell), and the Pisinemo Development Authority (PDA) collaborated to address pressing issues in the Pisinemo District on the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona. A U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant of $200,000 funded this two-year project.

Due to the multi-year drought in the Sonoran Desert, where the Tohono O’odham Nation is located, cattle were dying in Pisinemo District. Ponds were shrinking, forage plants were desiccated, and a few old wells no longer worked. Some houses in the Pisinemo community had no electricity, and other homes relied on propane generators or shared wiring for electricity. TOCC, UMass- Lowell, and the PDA talked to community members, made a plan, and got to work.

During a Solar Day held in Pisinemo in May, the partners showcased sustainable energy projects undertaken over the past two years. These projects include the installation of solar panels on homes in Pisinemo District; repairs to the old Squash Burn Well so that it is now solar operated; and improvements to the Circle H Ranch charco so that a solar pump will deliver water away from the muddy center of the pond to a nearby tank where cattle can drink without floundering and dying on the outer edge of the charco. Plans are also underway to install a solar-powered drip irrigation system at Squash Burn Well to water forage crops for cattle.

At Solar Day, TOCC American Indian Science and Engineering students also helped children construct solar ovens for a design competition. The winning two ovens attained a temperature of 135° F after 45 minutes in the sun. TOCC considers this sustainable energy project a model that can be replicated with other districts on the Tohono O’odham Nation or in other locales. The tribal college will continue working on energy and development issues at the grassroots level, and TOCC personnel encourage all tribal colleges to do the same. Dr. Teresa Newberry, project director, is happy to share ideas with those interested in developing sustainable energy in their communities.

For more information, please contact TOCC science instructor Teresa Newberry, Ph.D., at (520) 383- 8401 or email

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