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My sPower Summer Internship: A Building Block for my Renewable Energy Career

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By: Jayne Sandoval, sPower Summer 2020 Intern

Some things are destined to be. My internship with sPower was one of them. 

I was excited to join the U.S. Department of Energy’s Collegiate Wind Competition this year as part of the capstone work for my engineering major at Northern Arizona University. As part of my research, I attended a county permitting meeting for a local wind farm where I met with sPower’s Senior Permitting Manager Terrance Unrein. After seeing my experience with designing and permitting wind projects, he offered me a summer internship. 

Growing up in the Ute Pass Valley on the Navajo reservation in Northern Arizona shaped my desire to help more reservations develop renewable energy projects. I decided to accept the internship because I learned that sPower shared similar values and goals.

I used my technology skills to focus on a project that was still in the early stages of permitting. Using Green IT software, I organized all of the permitting tasks, which allowed the team to track progress over time. We used Google Earth to compile files and provide a visual view of each project’s components, boundaries, and construction phases.

My work exposed me to the numerous obstacles I will face as an engineer, whether they are constraints around land, boundaries, regulations, or resources. I learned that everything must be accounted for when designing a renewable energy project.

The most significant part of the internship was when I worked with the permitting team to develop guidelines for the Navajo Nation which detailed the positive impacts that a sPower wind project would provide to the community. It was meaningful to work with a company that helps my people and ensures the community benefits from the project.

Especially in light of the pandemic, the Navajo Nation needs resources like electricity and running water. It is hard to bring those resources to homes on the reservation using existing infrastructure due to cost; this is where renewable energy can help. 

Reservations have been overlooked for far too many years due to the arduous approval process, which deters many companies. sPower’s approach to development on Tribal Land is truly unique.

As indigenous people, we are spiritually and culturally connected to our lands. For years, our lands have been taken, exploited, and destroyed to develop power sources that are not sustainable. Renewable energy is a way to create a power source that coexists with the environment without constantly stripping resources from the land. Implementing renewable energy would allow us to sustainably power our community, while protecting our homelands from further destruction. 

In addition to learning through my work, I enjoyed the chance to build connections with my co-workers, feeling close even as we worked remotely due to the current pandemic. The sPower team was welcoming and supportive of my plan to attend grad school this fall in Taiwan. As I learned from them, I was happy to bring my knowledge and experience in technology to the team. 

I hope that sPower and the renewable energy industry as a whole will continue to reach out to students that share the same passion for clean power, especially those who are underrepresented, and often overlooked. By doing so, I think the industry will become stronger and accelerate its growth. 

Renewable energy is an emerging field, and there is still a lot to learn. The more people that work in renewable energy, the faster we can develop technology that will save the world.

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