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Burns Paiute Tribe First To Go To All Green Lightbulbs

The Burns Paiute reservation north of Burns is the smallest in the state. About 350 tribal members live in 54 homes.


How many lightbulbs does it take to change a region’s energy efficiency?

Over the next two weeks, workers with the Burns Paiute Tribe will screw in a historic lightbulb.

And tribal members will become the first in the country to install energy efficient light bulbs in every one of its homes.

Central Oregon correspondent Ethan Lindsey filed this report from the reservation, north of Burns.

Outside a small home on the Paiute reservation, the wind picks up and blows the colorful chimes on the front porch.

In the driveway stands a truck, with huge tubes running out the back, and into the house.

Jody Hill: “We usually start with elders first. Elders and low-income people.”

 Jody Hill
Jody Hill is the Burns Paiute Housing Director and is leading the CFL and weatherization project.

Jody Hill is the Burns Paiute Tribe’s housing director.

Workers from his office are blowing insulation into this home to weatherize it.

It’ll help a lot – the aging tribal members here live on a fixed income, and this will slash their energy bills.

Hill says this home has been completely overhauled, energy-wise.

Jody Hill: “We’re basically ready to go. We’ve changed all the lightbulbs out, with the CFLs.”

CFLs, or compact fluorescent light bulbs, can save hundreds-of-dollars to a household in just a few years. Hill says that’s why they are installing them in every house on the reservation.

By the end of the year, the tribe says it will have weatherized every single home - 54 houses  in all - home to about 350 tribal members.

Dean Adams: “We’ve learned how to work the system out to our advantage.”

The tribe's chairman, Dean Adams, says the fact that the Burns Paiute Tribe is the smallest in the state is actually an advantage.

 Dean Adams
Dean Adams is the chairman of the Burns Paiute Tribe, and believes the tribe can be a leader in energy and weatherization efforts.

Dean Adams: “Other tribes feel that they are more advanced than us because of their casinos, their location, and the bigger communities that they have. But we’ve always been the little person on the totem pole there. And so right now, working our way up is our way to show not only the state of Oregon, but fellow tribal members elsewhere that we are a major player in the economy right now.”

The Bonneville Power Administration, and federal Department of Energy, both give millions-of-dollars in grants to states for these weatherization efforts.

The state then allocates that money to low-income non-profits or communities, like the Burns Paiute program.

The idea started in the 70s, in response to that era’s energy crisis – the idea is regaining ground today.

Katie Pruder is a BPA spokeswoman.

Katie Pruder: “I have to say, we are really impressed with the Burns Paiute Tribe. For a relatively small tribe, they are showing impressive national leadership. They’re the ones who actually drove this initiative. We provided support by helping them get the lightbulbs and training them, but they are the ones doing the actual work.”

At another home on the reservation, tribal housing workers have closed off every door and window and set up a fan to pull air out of the home. 

Then, workers pull out an infrared camera, like out of a James Bond movie 

The home’s owner says he thinks there are rats underneath the bathroom floor.

So housing director Jody Hill heads into the bathroom and aims the camera at the bathtub.

Jody Hill: “See how the airs working itself in through the drain? Those are all cold spots. There’s probably a 12-inch hole underneath there that the rodents can get into.”

Hill says this weatherization program will mean safer, more economical – and greener homes. Still, it’s only 54 homes.

But the state housing department says other tribes, including the Warm Springs, will begin their own weatherization program this year – and could learn a lot from the Burns Paiute.

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