John Mott-Smith Credit: Davis Enterprise

This post is written by John Mott-Smith, a member of Cool Davis, and cross-posted from the Davis Enterprise. I recently had the opportunity (two, in fact) to learn what the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation has done on its Cache Creek lands to increase energy efficiency, develop renewable energy and generally promote sustainability.

Representatives from the tribe made a presentation to the Climate Change Compact of Yolo County on April 13. The compact is an ad hoc association of most of the jurisdictions in Yolo County, including the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. Each of the jurisdictions has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the compact meets once every two months to discuss and share ways of doing so.

The presentation generated a tremendous amount of interest among compact members and the Tribal Council was gracious enough to approve a tour. Twenty members of the compact showed up for a tour on April 14.

A big part of the reason for the interest in actually seeing the projects that were talked about at the meeting, at least for me, was the clear impression I got from the talk that what they are doing is about more than sustainability. There is also an emphasis on “stewardship” — a moral responsibility to protect the future.

Efforts to promote energy efficiency and sustainability are usually couched in economic (saving money, reducing energy bills) or security (oil independence, avoid bad consequences of climate change) terminology. This is good common sense, but I confess that I have come to believe, under the patient tutelage of my friend Judy Moores, that the market will take care of things by itself because there’s money to be made in renewable energy, that achieving our greenhouse gas reduction goals won’t happen without some form of transformation in the way we look at the world and prepare for the future. The term “stewardship” captures the necessary mind-set and approach to both policy and program.

As a part of its mission, the tribe indicates that: “Renewable energy development increases our control of the future we leave to our children. By harnessing the natural resources around us, we are planning for the long term and laying a responsible foundation for future generations.”

Of course, they are also a business, and the needs of the casino (heating and cooling), the golf course (water) and the school, homes, meeting centers and other facilities create the challenges for sustainability. But the solutions they have developed go beyond simply providing power and water.

The tribe’s photovoltaic array produces a quarter of a megawatt of energy and four hydrogen fuel cells produce another three-quarters. They participate in PG&E’s base interruption program and can completely disconnect from the grid during power shortages, relying on their own back-up generators that can provide electricity for all their needs as well as the needs of much of the Capay Valley.

They operate a “thermal energy storage” system that cools water at night (“off peak” when energy demand is lower) that is then used for air-conditioning systems during the day, thereby reducing the utility’s load during times when demand is highest. They recycle 80 million gallons of water a year through a “membrane bio-reactor” that provides clean water for toilets and for watering the golf course.

Of course, there are also the little things. The lighting in the casino is done entirely with LEDs. Motion sensors reduce lighting levels in the parking garage when no one is there. Fire trucks run on a biodiesel blend of fuel. Plans are under way for mowing equipment used on the golf course to run on used cooking oil. The clubhouse is certified to LEED silver, the maintenance building to LEED platinum. All the toilets are low-flow … the list goes on and on.

There are also a few nifty little things. For example, the tribe installed solar tubes to bring light into several of the buildings. Not that unusual, right? But they also installed light sensors that, when light levels exceed a certain amount, override the traditional indoor lighting system and prevent any lights from being turned on.

Some buildings also can sense outdoor temperature and wind conditions and open or close windows to either let outside air in or keep it out. And, we saw what looked like a tiny little aerometer that was measuring wind speed and would retract exterior window shades if they were in danger of being harmed by the wind.

I’ve heard some argue that the most energy-saving thing that could be done was to not build a casino in the first place, but that also would be true for the homes we all live in and the businesses that provide our needs. What Yocha Dehe has done for energy efficiency and renewable energy development on its lands and in its facilities goes a lot further than just the “extra mile.”

Many of the energy-efficiency and renewable-energy technologies the tribe has implemented do not have short payback periods; they were not done solely for the purpose of saving money. Their commitment to stewardship as a companion to sustainability is something we can all learn from.