By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
A program, developed by Principal Chief Patrick Lambert, whereby elder members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians would have their power bills paid for them will have to wait a little longer. During a Budget Council session on Tuesday, April 4, Tribal Council tabled a resolution to implement Chief Lambert’s “Power to the People, Putting our Elders in the Comfort Zone” program.
“We do a lot of things for our elders, but we should be pursuing all we can for our elders,” Chief Lambert said during discussion on the legislation which was tabled by a vote of 9-3 with Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, Big Cove Rep. Richard French, and Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke voting to pass.
“I think this is a very good way for us to show our appreciation to our elders, also to help take care of our elders who are having to take care of others in their homes, and also to help those elders who are struggling day-to-day to make ends meet,” commented Chief Lambert.
The program itself would be voluntary and would cover the more than 1,150 EBCI senior citizens (age 59 1/2 or older) in a five-county (Cherokee, Graham, Jackson, Haywood, and Swain) service area. The legislation states that, if passed, $2 million would be appropriated into the Tribe’s General Fund for the program which would be administered through the EBCI Public Health & Human Services division.
Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose said he supported the idea, but would like the Tribe look at all sides of the energy issue. “I believe in taking care of our elders, but maybe we should take it to another step and maybe look at adding solar panels to their homes to lower that bill as we pay for it. That’d be something I’d like to see done too.”
Chief Lambert said he fully supports the idea of the Tribe getting involved in renewable energy such as solar, wind, and water power and related he would like to see a solar farm created. “It would be a pretty good chunk of land, but with the right amount of investment, and we’re talking probably $30-40 million to build a 60 to 70 acre site…that would power this whole Tribe, and we could basically make this entire Tribe net zero on electricity consumption. I think it’s a great idea. I think solar is the up-and-coming way, and if we can capitalize on that, I think it’s a good way to go.”
Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha also supports the idea of renewable energy and said more discussion was needed on the legislation and the overall “Power to the People” program. “Everybody remembers the 2008 crash (stock market), and there were some programs that we had to cut back on, and I’d hate that if something else happened. I wouldn’t want to take away.”
He said it’s time for the Tribe to invest in the future. “I don’t disagree with paying for the power bills, but I was trying to look at it as a whole scope and starting with the seniors and disabled on renewable energy.”
Chief Lambert said he’s fully on board with a future vision for solar and other forms of renewable energy, but did add, “But, this will meet the need now because there’s going to be a lot of our elder’s homes that simply don’t qualify for a solar set-up because of their location, not being on the south side of a mountain or something like that. So, there’s going to be restrictions on that. This would be a direct, immediate help and impact on all of our elders…”
He said he’s having solar panels added to his home later this month. “In six and a half years, I’ll have the system paid for and will have a zero electric bill.”
Rep. McCoy related that she is also currently taking advantage of solar power at her home in the Big Cove Community and spoke of the difference in her power bill from February 2016 to February 2017. “Our power bill, in that one month, was cut close to 70 percent from last year. We’re no longer paying $100 power bills at my house because we have a 12-panel solar panel. Right now, at my house, we’re not using Duke (Energy). We’re using sunshine because it’s free. Sunshine is free. That water running out there is free. That wind that’s blowing is free.”
Birdtown Rep. Travis Smith said he wanted more specifics on the program before passage. He said the re-occurring energy costs would only be around $2 million now but could rise to $5 million or more. “One of the things I’d like to see is a plan on this. Bring us a true number on what we’re going to cover. It’s got to be defined of what we’re going to do inside this plan.”
He added, “There’s opportunities out here with grants to help our people with. Instead of just throwing money at a problem, we can look at this. It might take us a little longer to capture what we’re looking for.”
After brief discussion on whether to pass the legislation and then develop guidelines for the program afterwards, the resolution was tabled with the understanding that a work session will be scheduled for this month to discuss guidelines and more program details.