Knobelsdorff Logo

Partnership spotlight | Solar Bear and Knobelsdorff tackle the piic net zero project

Knobelsdorff was awarded a 5.4 MW solar project from the Prairie Island Indian Community, helping them to achieve their Net Zero goals. This project will be completed in November 2023 and was a full EPC scope for KE. The solar site is situated on 21.6 acres (about the size of 16 football fields) of unusable dredge sand with an end goal of native prairie restoration. Upon completion, this solar field will power an estimated 750 homes each year and many businesses throughout the community.

KE is partnering with Solar Bear, a Native American-owned solar company in Minnesota, to develop and execute a workforce development program and community engagement activities for PIIC community members. The partnership involves community member engagement through three different tracks:

  1. Gold Track: Open to all community members, this six-week in-person and virtual course educates participants about the basics of solar, clean energy, and the PIIC Net Zero project. These courses are open to all PIIC tribal community members and run every Wednesday for six weeks at Treasure Island Resort and Casino, covering solar landscape, site selection, sustainability, and clean energy topics.
  2. Silver Track: Open to all community members 16+, participants will learn about safety, career and field basics of solar, which the paid participants will apply to the building of the solar field at PIIC.
  3. Red Track: As part of the PIIC Summer School program for students K-8, these children built a solar oven (to cook smores) and a solar power water fountain.  

Karl von Knobelsdorff, CEO/President of KE, explains why Solar Bear is a great partner for the project, "They are a Minnesota-based company with a great reputation, experience, and dedication to tribal communities. I met Bob at MnSEIA (Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association) conference and knew we had to find a way to work together. With the solar market growing at a rapid rate, KE is excited to set a focus on helping tribal communities reach their clean energy and energy sovereignty goals."

We asked Robert Blake, CEO and Founder of Solar Bear, to tell us a little about what they do and how their partnership with KE benefits the PIIC Solar Project.

What does Solar Bear do? 

Solar Bear started installing solar on a small scale - such as rooftops on commercial buildings - and has transpired into a developer over the last two years. I brought in people with five to ten years of development experience and began turning Solar Bear into a mid-size solar operation. 

What is your favorite thing about the work that you do?

I love working with the people in our industry. It draws a good pool of people because everyone in the renewable energy industry wants what is good for the planet. It brings a team effort feeling. We realize that this is about self-preservation, which is the biggest reason I love this industry and this job. 

Why did you choose to partner with KE on this project? 

It is very mutual. I like KE because it has an excellent reputation for getting work done. Karl had his difficulties, like every business owner, but it's how he navigates those that set the tone and culture for KE. For Karl to be successful, he has a great "big picture" mentality. That's what I respect about Karl and this company. I look forward to doing more work with KE in the future. 

What sets Solar Bear apart from others?

We really do believe in our mission - we believe in what we are doing, and it is more than just a job to us; it's a purpose. We do it for the cause; this is who you are and what you stand for. When so many people can choose so many other people to work with/for, knowing that Solar Bear will go that extra mile, it makes it easier for them to choose us. Someone told me long ago that the only thing you need to protect is your name and reputation, and that is what sets Solar Bear apart: those things matter to us. I want to do something that will benefit and that are for the greater good and do it the right way. 

Can you tell us a little bit about the partnership of Solar Bear and KE? 

This is a great partnership that we have come together on. Solar Bear oversees workforce development training and community engagement with the Prairie Island Indian Community and other tribal communities. We are also in charge of the procurement of solar panels - so we are helping to procure the accusation of the solar panels that will be installed. That is the neat thing Solar Bear is doing to support the project completion. KE oversees the project's construction while also wanting to help a Native American-owned business to give us a leg up and give community members on-the-job experience while constructing the solar field. 

How do you think the Solar Bear/KE PIIC Project is going to help tribal communities? 

I think the project is charting an example of how other EPCs can work with small Native American-owned businesses in their respective communities. That, to me, is groundbreaking. When we talk about equality, diversity, and inclusion, this job is a perfect example of how all that is coming together - that is what is exciting about this project. KE is demonstrating how they can add value to the Native American communities and businesses. Including the community, providing education, and more, adds value. This is going to be an example for the rest of Native country, and I am excited to see how more projects like this advance.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram