Solar Today Summer 2016 : Page 12
Within the broad swaths of mostly rural, often remote land Native Americans call “Indian Country” exist considerable untapped resources. Despite representing less than 2% of the total U.S. land base, Indian lands con-tain an estimated 5% of all U.S. renewable energy generation potential, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Labora-tory (NREL). When considered in light of the rapid decline in costs for clean energy technol-ogies, the proliferation of policies that incentivize clean energy, and the increas-ingly urgent need for energy transformation, this disproportionate wealth in renewable resources represents a nascent opportunity—one not reserved for tribes alone. “Indian Country is ripe with opportunity for profitable, mutually beneficial business engagements with tribes,” said DOE Office of Indian Energy Director Chris Deschene. Positioning Tribes to Thrive Deschene’s characterization of the opportunity for energy development on tribal lands is grounded in data-driven analysis and empirical evidence. In addition to funding technical resource and market analyses and contributing to intergovernmental energy and climate initiatives, the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs has an established track record of cultivating propitious— and practicable—tribal energy visions. Since 2002, DOE has invested more than $50 million in nearly 200 tribal energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Signaling its confidence in tribes’ ongoing success, DOE recently announced more than $9 million in funding for 16 clean energy projects in 24 tribal communities. “In addition to supplementing the substantial economic investments tribes have made in energy projects through grants, the Office of Indian Energy has committed significant intellectual capital to growing the human capacity needed to deploy, maintain, and operate energy projects on tribal lands,” said Deschene. “Now we are at a critical moment—a turning point on the path to tribal energy and economic security where we have an opportunity to build on past invest-ments and maximize the returns.” Guided by energy visions and strategic plans ranging in scope from boldly enterprising to cautiously optimistic, AIAN communities are making headway. In April Menominee Tribal Enterprises broke ground on a $2 million biomass energy plant in Wisconsin, and the Seneca Nation of Indians broke ground on a $6 million 1.5-megawatt (MW) wind project in New York. These projects, co-funded by DOE, are just two recent examples of tribal energy visions coming to fruition. Leveraging federal and state government grants, incentives, and technical assistance, many other AIAN communities have amassed the resources, knowl-edge, and skills needed to harness their renewable resources and deploy holistic technology solutions designed to reduce their energy costs, create jobs, and build resilience. “Clean energy is emerging as a new economic engine in tribal communities, and tribes are in the driver’s seat,” said Deschene. “By developing their indig-enous energy resources, tribes are positioning themselves to not simply survive but thrive—and that goal is best realized through economic sovereignty.” And yet the road to energy and economic sovereignty is not a solo journey. Tribal leaders recognize that there is a compelling business case for bringing a wide array of partners from government, academia, and industry on board. In many cases these partnerships, varying in scope and structure, are critical to making energy projects technically and economically viable for tribes. And they have the potential to be win-win deals. “Building strong government and industry partnerships at the local, regional, and national level has been key to our steady progress toward our renewable energy and carbon reduction goals,” said Jana Ganion, energy director of the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR). Blue Lake Rancheria Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) is one of a growing number of tribes pursuing progressive clean energy goals by investing in energy projects that incorporate a variety of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. The small northern California tribe established its holistic climate action plan in 2008, and in December 2014 it was one of 16 U.S. communities designated by the White House as Climate Action Champions for extraordinary leadership on the climate front. “Tribal governments are choosing to lead with fast transitions to clean energy, and we are seeing stunningly successful examples of this across the United States,” said Ganion. This spring BLR began construction of its 500-kilowatt (kW) solar array. The solar system is a cornerstone of the tribe’s low-carbon community microgrid project, scheduled to be online by year-end. When complete, the project will incorporate more than 950 kilowatt-hours of battery storage with the tribe’s solar energy system and back-up generators. In addition to being selected for the Office of Indian Energy’s Strategic Tech-nical Assistance Response Team (START) Program in 2015 and securing funding through the California Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) in February 2016, the tribe has cultivated healthy partnerships with a broad array of other stakeholders. They include DOE, NREL, the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University, Redwood Coast Energy Authority, Tesla, Siemens, and REC Solar, among others. Although BLR has run up against obstacles, the tribe has established separate business entities that have enabled it to work seamlessly with its private sector partners to circumvent perceived barriers. “Initially, there was some apprehension about entering into a contract with a tribal nation, in part because sovereign immunity is seen as a potential financial risk,” said Chris Fennimore, director of business development for REC Solar, the local firm that contracted for the design, engineering, and construction of BLR’s solar array. The assumption of risk proved unfounded, Fennimore said, crediting Serraga Energy, LLC with assuaging their concerns and streamlining the process. A tribally organized limited liability company, Serraga was formed to “develop and manage energy-related projects at the rancheria, enable nimble day-to-day Workers installing the racking for the Blue Lake Rancheria’s solar system. 12 SUMMER 2016 SOLAR TODAY Copyright © 2014 American Solar Energy Society. 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