The New Energy Future in Indian Country

Indian Tribes are disproportionately bearing the brunt of climate change. But the huge potential on tribal lands to generate clean energy from renewable resources presents tribes with the opportunity to be a significant part of the solution through climate policy that creates green jobs and protects natural resources.

The New Energy Future in Indian Country: Confronting Climate Change, Creating Jobs, and Conserving Nature provides an overview of the possibilities for renewable energy in Indian Country and detailing case studies of wind energy, solar power, geothermal and biomass production, as well as energy efficiency/weatherization.

The report was released by the National Wildlife Federation in collaboration with National Tribal Environmental Council, Native American Rights Fund, and Intertribal Council On Utility Policy.

"With 95 million acres of land under their management and centuries of experience conserving the natural world, Indian tribes can play a significant role in protecting natural resources from climate change and coping with a warmer world,” said Steve Torbit, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center and Tribal Lands Conservation Program.

“With our partners, we developed this report to showcase the tremendous opportunities tribes have to implement renewable energy, energy efficiency, and participate in the green economy, while protecting their natural resource heritage.”

The report details:

* The vast opportunities for renewable energy production and case studies where clean energy is already flowing in Indian Country
* Maps of energy potential in wind power, solar energy, geothermal, and biomass
* How weatherization can reduce energy costs for Tribal households
* Green jobs in Indian Country and opportunities for clean energy investments
* Tribal principles for climate legislation

Indian Tribes are disproportionately bearing the brunt of climate change, and their economic, cultural, and spiritual practices, which are closely tied to the natural world, are suffering. But the vast potential on tribal lands to generate clean energy from renewable energy resources like solar, wind turbines, biomass, and geothermal power presents tribes with the opportunity to be a significant part of the solution.

They can help confront climate change and continue their legacy as conservationists, while creating clean energy jobs and generating revenue in their communities to help lift them out of poverty.

On average, Tribal households pay significantly more in home energy expenses than other Americans. Most utilities are solely owned and operated by non-Tribal entities, so the money paid to energy providers immediately leaves tribal communities. More than 14 percent of American Indian households on reservations have no access to electricity, compared to 1.2 percent of all U.S. households.

However, tribal lands, which cover almost 5 percent of the total area of the United States, hold an estimated 10 percent of the country’s renewable energy resources, including enough solar energy potential to generate 4.5 times the national total energy consumption in 2004.

The infrastructure and revenue streams created by tribal renewable energy and energy efficiency projects could help tribes achieve economic growth and energy independence, and strengthen tribal sovereignty. These projects would help keep utility revenue within tribal communities and create worker training opportunities in clean energy jobs, such as installation, maintenance, weatherization, and construction.

While such projects must carefully consider the potential impacts on the land, wildlife and habitat, they could help tribes meet their energy demands and sustain their natural resources for future generations.

Several pilot projects are under way across the country. Programs in the Department of Energy and Department of Health and Human Services, other state incentives, and the rising carbon offset market are helping tribes save money and discover critical funding opportunities.

However, large-scale tribal renewable energy development faces several obstacles, including insufficient federal funding, limited tax credit benefits, and transmission line planning.

Current federal climate and energy bills such as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 and the Clean Energy Jobs and Power Act of 2009 have addressed some of these obstacles, and other tribal needs and interests. But Indian tribes have been excluded from some key programs; it is critical to include tribes in these to fully realize the renewable energy potential on their lands.