The U.S. fossil fuel boom has not been easy on American Indians.
Pollution is one problem, hunger for coal is another. While the people of the Moapa Paiute Reservation in Nevada wait for a promised solar energy center, smokestacks from the Reid-Gardner coal-fired power plant cake local homes with black dust. West of the Mississippi, Indian reservations contain almost 30 percent of the nation’s coal, but regulations from the Bureau of Indian Affairs limiting reservation energy development prevents tribes from fully capitalizing. So even when coal is developed, tribes don’t see the money — they just see soot.
But American Indian land — which makes up only 2 percent of the country — also has the potential to produce more than 5 percent of total renewable power generation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which on Thursday announced an investment of $7 million into nine tribal clean energy projects.
“American Indian and Alaska Native tribes host a wide range of untapped energy resources that can help build a sustainable energy future for their local communities,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in the announcement. “Responsible development of these clean energy resources will help cut energy waste and fight the harmful effects of carbon pollution – strengthening energy security of Tribal nations throughout the country.”
The official announcement of the investment came just one day after the fifth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, where representatives of all 566 nationally recognized tribes gathered to voice concerns about climate change, among other things. The grants are part of the DOE’s ongoing Tribal Energy Program, which has invested $42 million into 175 tribal clean energy projects since 2002.
One of the biggest projects of the nine will be awarded to the Seneca Nation of Indians in Irving, New York: a 1.8 megawatt wind turbine near Lake Erie. The wind turbine, the DOE said, is expected to generate about 50 percent of the electricity used on the entire reservation.
The DOE’s investment for the Menominee Tribal Enterprises in Neopit, Wisconsin, will purportedly help cut fuel oil use by more than 80 percent annually by installing a biomass-fueled combined heat and power system to power the tribe’s sawmill and lumber drying operation. For the Tonto Apache Tribe in Payson, Arizona, solar panels will be installed on three of the tribe’s largest energy consuming buildings.
According to a recent DOE study, American Indian tribes have not only immense technical potential for renewable energy projects, but stand to benefit greatly in terms of economic development from those projects. Long-term stabilization of energy costs, revenue generation, and conservation were just a few of the cited benefits — and renewable projects would keep tribes self-sufficient in terms of energy production, the study said.
A complete list of the projects awarded by the DOE on Thursday can be found here.