As more tribes explore and get involved in the
renewable energy field, a network of tribal groups
is asking President-elect Barack Obama to support
tribally owned and operated renewable energy projects,
along with economic development initiatives that
could reduce dependence on fossil fuels
"The Obama economic stimulus plan that incorporates
a green economy and green jobs portfolio must include
provisions for access of these resources by our
Native nations, our tribal education and training
institutions and Native organizations and communities,"
according to a policy statement released jointly
Dec. 17 by the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy,
the Indigenous Environmental Network, the International
Indian Treaty Council and the Honor the Earth environmental
"When considering energy production, resource extraction,
housing and energy efficiency, it is essential that
the incoming administration takes into account the
disproportionate impacts of climate change and energy
development on American Indian reservations and
Alaska Native villages, and the potential for catalyzing
green reservation economies."
The groups represent approximately 250 grassroots
tribal organizations and tribes that want to ensure
American Indian participation and prosperity in
the green economy of the future.
The statement says that federal government subsidies
for the nuclear, coal, gas and oil industry should
be rapidly phased out with a proportional ramp up
of subsidies for renewable technologies and locally
administered conservation and efficiency improvements.
Under current federal law, tribes are not directly
entitled to credits provided to non-Native developers
for renewable energy production. This has created
a system where outside companies sometimes think
twice about teaming with tribes on renewable energy
projects, since, if they do so, the federal government
does not allow for a full tax credit.
"Projects involving technologies like wind power
could stand on their own if none of the energy sectors
got [federal] subsidies or incentives, but there
are already billions of dollars built into coal,
gas and coal subsidies," said Bob Gough, a leader
with Intertribal COUP.
"To compete against them, renewable energy technologies
require subsidies as well. You can't artificially
keep the price of energy down, and then expect new
kinds of technology to bear all the costs."
The groups are pressing for changes to subsidy
laws to make them more tribe-friendly, and also
say that any climate change legislation should not
allocate funds for nuclear or clean coal technologies,
as they believe those practices are often harmful
to the Earth and to tribal interests.
The policy paper specifically asks that policymakers
provide a renewable production refund for tribal
projects that can't utilize current tax credits,
as well as offer financial matching grants to capitalize
renewable energy potential in tribal communities.
The organizations believe that a new crop of tribal
renewable projects, which would be assisted by the
legislative changes they seek, would provide dual
benefits of low carbon power and green economic
development where it is needed most.
Support for legislative action involving tribes
and energy is based on the following research gathered
by the groups:
-- Tribal lands have an estimated 535 billion
kWh/year of wind power generation potential.
-- Tribal lands have an estimated 17,000 billion
kWh/year of solar electricity generation potential,
about 4.5 times the total U.S. annual generation.
-- Investing in renewable energy creates more
jobs per dollar invested than fossil fuel energy.
-- Efficiency creates 21.5 jobs for every $1 million
-- The costs of fuel for wind and solar power can
be projected into the future, providing a unique
opportunity for stabilizing an energy intensive
In sum, members of the tribal network believe that
forward thinking energy and climate policy will
have the ability to transform tribal and other rural
economies, while also providing a basis for an overall
economic recovery in the U.S.
Gough estimated that close to 100 tribes across
the country have already assessed or are currently
assessing the wind and/or solar energy resources
that are available on their lands. Some of the tribes,
including those in the Plains and Southwest regions,
have found that their renewable energy resources
rank among the most abundant in the U.S.
Tony Skrelunas, an America Indian program director
with the Grand Canyon Trust environmental group,
said that it will be important in 2009 for tribes
to continue banding together to make their energy
interests well-known to federal policymakers.
Skrelunas, a member of the Navajo Nation who used
to manage the tribe's economic development operations,
said many tribes are now savvy on energy issues,
and have evolved to the point where they want strong
federal policies put in place to help them harness
their power. His group plans to help convene several
tribal renewable energy players early in 2009 to
focus on national strategies.
"There are a lot of issues that have to be worked
out and laws that need to be clarified," Skrelunas
said. "And the tribes have to be the ones championing
this. The tribes have to be the ones going to Congress
saying they want these laws changed."
Skrelunas said he is looking forward to what the
Obama administration brings forward regarding tribal
In terms of tribal economics, many energy experts
say that renewable projects could create a more
stable business model than, say, the development
of casinos alone.
"One of the issues facing economic development
with casinos is that you need to have a number of
customers -- you need to have a large population
market to draw on, but that's not always the case
for remote reservations" Gough noted.
"Whereas, it doesn't matter how many people want
to use the electricity you're able to produce from
a wind turbine in a rural area, you can serve thousands
and thousands and thousands of customers from across
a whole region."
Gough said he hopes to see dozens more tribal renewable
energy projects up and running by the end of 2009.