A production plant for solar panels is opening in the Pine Point area, and it held an open house and job fair Thursday for people from Pine Point and surrounding communities who want to get involved.

Called 8th Fire Solar, the new company will begin producing the most efficient and economical high-performance solar air heating panels in the nation, according to Pam Mahling, special projects director for Honor the Earth. “We’re trying to build a local and sustainable economy,” she said.

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Built to withstand even the coldest climates, the solar products have the best Btu-per-dollar ratio on the market.

The company will target the commercial and home market, and hopes to help reduce the energy poverty in native communities.

“We raised money and purchased property in Ponsford - a shop, a house and an old town hall,” Mahling said. “We did build an addition to the shop, put in a new septic system and three-phase power - it was a pretty big project,” she said, thanking the Northwest Area Foundation and the Otto Bremer Foundation for their support.

The solar panels will be built in the shop building.

“One hundred panels (the first year) is our goal, based on our business plan - obviously we hope to expand from there,” she said. The company hopes to quickly establish a national dealer network.

The company didn’t just pull its products out of thin air. In 2017, 8th Fire Solar entered into a licensing and technology transfer partnership with the non-profit, and well-regarded, Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) in Backus, Minn., to make 8th Fire Solar a reality.

RREAL has a dealer network, and “they are giving us quite a bit of marketing support,” for the solar products, Mahling said. “We’ve already got phone calls from people really eager to get their hands on them.”

The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance engineered the high-end solar products and was producing them in a rented facility in Pine River, she added. RREAL opted to get out of production and move into building community solar gardens to produce green electricity. “They will be one of our best customers,” she said.

The new facility is located at 49164 County Road 26, Ponsford.

8th Fire Solar will initially employ six people from the White Earth area.

8th Solar Fire is part of a new Honor the Earth initiative called Akiing, which is the Ojibwe word for “the land to which we belong.” The non-profit community development corporation was launched in 2017, aiming to help build a truly sustainable local economy, one that better aligns with Native American values and culture.

Here’s how the “solar furnaces” work: Mounted on a building’s south side, the panels collect the sun’s heat inside insulated black glass panels. A thermostatically controlled fan blows the collected air heat into the house, shop or greenhouse during the day and automatically closes the dampers to keep the cold out at night or when the sun isn’t shining. A state-of the-art Array Interconnect system creates airtight, seamless connections. The airflow design and modularity allow for uniform air distribution, flexible installation - and maximum heat capture.  

Installed and ready to go, you can expect to pay around $5,800 for the finished product, including two solar collectors, a fan, ducting, electrical and labor. That cost is offset by a 30% federal tax credit for businesses, and there are often other rebates and incentives available.

That’s a chunk of money for sure, but Mahling points out that they last at least 20 years, and a single solar panel reduces your fossil fuel use and carbon emissions by 20-50%, depending on the building and your primary heating fuel.

The name 8th Fire Solar comes from Anishinaabe prophecies, according to the company’s website: “We have a choice between a well-worn, scorched path and one that is green and unworn. If we choose the green path, the 8th Fire will be lit and a better future will be formed.”