Cherokee Nation celebrates first tribal solar canopy car charging station

Aerial view of solar canopy charging station
Aerial view of the new solar canopy car charging station at the Cherokee Nation W. W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tehlequah.

The Cherokee Nation held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the tribe’s headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma to celebrate the first tribal solar canopy car charging station to be built by a tribe in Oklahoma.

Cherokee Nation’s new charging station is located in the main parking lot of the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex. It is capable of charging up to eight electric vehicles and also provides about 58,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity to the tribal complex each year, equivalent to the amount of electricity needed to power three or more homes.

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Ribbon cutting ceremony at solar canopy charging station
The moment of ribbon cutting at the solar canopy charging station. (From left to right) Cherokee Nation Senior Director of Environmental Resources Pat Gwin, Attorney General Todd Hembree, Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr., Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor, Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill, Treasurer Lacey Horn, Bureau of Indian Affairs Eastern Regional Office representative Jeannine Hale, and Cherokee Nation Special Projects Analyst Julie Justice.

“Embracing solar panels and adding electric vehicles to our fleet is consistent with Cherokee Nation’s leadership in clean-energy usage and carbon-footprint reduction,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Cherokee Nation is the first tribal government in Oklahoma to build and utilize a solar canopy like this. We have always been good stewards of the land, and this is another example of exceptional natural resource conservation, a legacy established by our ancestors. Additionally, the structure’s design enhances the beautification efforts we have made at the tribal complex.”

Construction costs for the solar canopy totaled around $300,000 through a partnership between Cherokee Nation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“The new solar canopy provides a convenient power source for electric vehicles and also provides clean power to the Cherokee Nation complex,” said Cherokee Nation Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill. “I’m proud that Cherokee Nation is able to provide this option to our employees and citizens while also honoring our obligation to act as good stewards of our natural resources.”

Test drive of new electric vehicle, Nissan Leaf
Cherokee Nation Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill test drives an electric car during a ride-and-drive event for tribal employees.

Cherokee Nation citizen Ben Phillips, of Fort Gibson, works at the tribal complex in Tahlequah and has driven a hybrid car for four years. He initially chose the electric vehicle for its technology and low maintenance and now uses the charging station daily, which saves time and money he would otherwise spend on gasoline.

“It’s exciting to see the tribe committed to green, renewable energy,” Phillips said. “I think it will be a win-win for the tribe and employees who commute to work every day. I have already noticed a flood of questions about electric vehicles and how they work and believe it will be a great opportunity to educate people about ‘EVs’ and sustainable energy.”

The Cherokee Nation purchased its first two 100-percent electric-powered Nissan Leaf compact cars in October. The Leafs can travel about 107 miles on one charge, and produce zero emissions.

Following Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting, the tribe hosted a ride-and-drive event. Aside from test-driving the new Nissan Leafs, employees were invited to drive electric vehicles owned by OG&E and Auffenberg Chevrolet in Muskogee.

Francis Renewable Energy of Tulsa was the contractor for the solar canopy charging station.

“The trend we’re seeing is an appetite for parking canopies, and it’s not just tribes and other governments,” FRE President David Jankowsky said. “There’s federal tax credits available, and when you take advantage of them they practically pay for the structure, so we’re going to start seeing a lot more of these solar canopy charging stations in Oklahoma.”

The solar canopy and addition of electric vehicles to the Cherokee Nation fleet are part of the tribe’s recent initiative to reduce carbon emissions. Other environmentally friendly initiatives include the tribe leasing land to a company for the development of a wind energy farm on Cherokee Nation trust land in Kay County.


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