Thunder Valley uses renewable energy to build community resilience


At Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, located on the Pine Ridge Reservation, renewable energy plays an important role in a vision to build resilient communities while reducing environmental impact.

Chance Renville, project manager at Thunder Valley, said using renewable energy is a natural extension of the Indigenous way of life, which honors unci maka, mother earth.

“As Indigenous people, we have always lived in a sustainable way. Never taking more than needed, being mindful of our environment and resources,” Chance said. “With renewable energy, we are providing a safer, healthier environment for our communities and families while getting back to who we are as a people.”

To accomplish the organization's mission of empowering Lakota youth and families, Thunder Valley has eight initiatives, two of those being housing and home ownership and regenerative community development. These initiatives prioritize the implementation of renewable energy in the community’s buildings, and contribute to the long-term goal of becoming a net-zero community.

Thunder Valley has installed solar on many of the existing buildings located on the organization’s 34-acre development, near Sharps Corner. These include their offices, daycare center, a 12-unit apartment complex, a community building, and 11 single-family homes, with more projects scheduled for completion in the future.

“We are continuously looking at ways to reduce our footprint while also generating renewable energy,” Chance said.

This includes undertaking a feasibility study last year to examine the organization’s long-term planning and implications for becoming a net-zero community. They also developed an environmental sustainability strategic plan with actionable steps for improving their existing facilities and future buildings.

For South Dakota’s communities to fully reap the benefits offered by clean energy, Chance said the state’s renewable energy policies need improvement, and should focus on incentivizing individuals and organizations to move toward clean energy.

“Renewable energy is not the way of the future, it’s the way of now,” he said. “We have to stop thinking of renewable energy as a ‘new’ thing and really embrace it and make the changes necessary to save unci maka for the next seven generations.”

Chance points specifically to the need for a statewide net metering policy. South Dakota is one of only three states in the nation without statewide net metering, which allows the owners of distributed generation systems, such as solar panels, to receive retail credit from their utility for the excess energy they transfer to the grid.

“We need policies that promote net metering and a more fair buy-back rate,” Chance said. “The residential solar energy tariff proposed by Black Hills Energy in South Dakota last year is frightening, and that would have taken us a step back instead of forward.”

Thunder Valley hopes it can serve as an example for any community working to become more sustainable and energy independent.

“We have big goals for this community and we know it will take a lot of work, but as Indigenous people, resiliency is who we are so I know we will get there,” Chance said.

Learn more about Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation on their website.

Feature photo courtesy of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation