Tribal Lands See More Clean Energy Dollars

The Obama administration has won generally high marks from tribal leaders in its first two years for work on a range of longstanding Native American issues, including health care, criminal justice and discrimination. But the administration is pursuing new initiatives, as well, including on the clean energy front. In December, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced it would establish an Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, and now Energy Secretary Steven Chu is committing $10 million in 2011 for the evaluation, development and deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on tribal lands.

While $10 million might not sound like much in a Washington where budgets are measured in billions and even trillions, it represents a substantial increase over previous years; according to the DOE website, from 2002 to 2008, funding for tribal energy projects totaled just a combined $16.5 million.

wind turbines, native american lands

image via Wikimedia Commons

“Tribal Nations are well-positioned to take advantage of the benefits of clean energy,” Chu said in a statement. “These efforts will help Tribal Nations determine the best projects for their lands and ultimately which technologies to adopt, both improving the environment and supporting long-term clean energy jobs.”

In December 2008 tribal leaders signaled to the incoming administration a hunger for clean-energy development, noting that tribal lands have an estimated 535 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year of wind-power generation potential and 17,000 billion kWh/year of solar electricity generation potential, several times the amount currently generated in the United States.

Along with the availability of the funds – which DOE noted remain subject to “continuing Congressional appropriations” – Secretary Chu also announced a May 5 date for the department’s Tribal Summit with American Indian and Alaska Native leaders.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.