New era of energy for tribes; Renewables conference drives innovative ideas
DENVER - Before oil reserves and production peaked, many countries, states
and communities started looking forward and embracing renewables as energy
sources - something American Indian tribes have been advocating for years.
Experts say that in the very near future, $60-per-barrel oil will be
welcomed. To some the financial cost is important, but the cost of damage
to the environment is the most expensive.
Alaska Natives are in the crucible of climate change. They experience it
first, they say, and are very concerned. At the first-ever Native
Renewables Energy Summit in Denver, Alaska Natives and American Indian
representatives from across the country and Canada met to discuss the
future of renewables as an energy source for not only saving the planet,
but also for economic benefits.
The Alaska Natives spoke of wildlife changes, from the land and in the
oceans. The traditional harvesting of whales, seals and other oceanic life
has become difficult. Some villages lie below sea level, and with the
rising of ocean levels those villages, which have existed for hundreds of
years, are being abandoned.
Global warming is a major concern for many countries, as well as for many
major U.S. cities. Many cities, showing concern about climate change, are
have signed on to a Declaration of Energy Independence. Some cities have
agreed to work with tribes which have the capacity to produce wind power
that will reduce carbon emissions.
It takes more than renewables alone to make the change, though; better
housing construction is needed, summit attendees heard.
Efficient housing construction, stand-alone wind and solar power for
individual residences and larger generators for communities are goals for
many tribes. Some areas have the wind capacity to actually provide enough
power to keep the lights on in the United States without running a diesel-,
nuclear- or coal-powered generation system.
The Great Plains have the richest source of wind in the country, but very
little access to transmission grids.
Complete dependency on renewables is many years away. Most experts at the
summit agreed that hybrid systems - a combination of wind, solar, natural
gas, coal and nuclear - is what we can expect in the near future. That
concept will still reduce carbon dioxide emissions and begin the process of
assuring a healthier Earth.
Economically, with more efficient housing and stand-alone energy sources,
American Indians who live in remote areas such as North and South Dakota,
Montana and Wyoming will be better and more efficiently served.
On the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, the first reservation to
install and operate a 750-kilowatt wind generator, a large wind farm is in
the late planning stages. The tribe, with the cooperative effort of the
Rosebud Housing Authority and the Tribal Utilities Commission, will provide
energy-efficient housing using renewable energy as the source of power.
Like many reservations, the electricity is provided by a rural electric
cooperative or by an investor-owned utility. Rosebud is served by the
Cherry Todd Electric Cooperative. Neiss said that 80 percent of the
utility's customers are American Indian, but no American Indians are on the
board of directors.
The Rosebud wind project will reduce its dependence on Cherry Todd for
power, which purchases electricity from Basin Electric, the No. 1 polluter
in the country.
Another large-scale polluter is the Mohave Generating Station, located in
southern Nevada. Because it exceeds pollution limits, the federal
government ordered Mohave to reduce its emissions by the end of this year
or face closure. The plant is located on the Navajo reservation, and the
royalties from the sale of coal at the Black Mesa coal mine produced
one-third of the tribe's revenue.
But the Hopi and Navajo have plans to produce power that is clean and will
use less water than the current system.
A solution, said Vernon Masayesva, director of the Black Mesa Trust, is to
build the world's largest solar plant. The 1,000-megawatt plant will be
located on both the Hopi and Navajo reservations and will offset any lost
revenues from the sales of coal.
"We feel there is a huge market for this," Masayesva said. "It is
strategically located." When the project was first proposed it received
opposition from some traditional Hopis and Navajos, but now there is strong
support, he added.
"The local people are driving the idea that we need to do something. We
have to stop Peabody [Energy, the company that extracts coal at Black Mesa]
from pumping the water," Masayesva said.
The solar plant will provide power for both reservations and part of
southern California, and will reduce the carbon footprint of the entire
The solar project, called the Colorado Plateau Clean Energy Initiative,
will be set on 5,000 acres or about six square miles and is expected to
cost $8 million while creating between 1,500 and 2,000 local jobs during
the construction period.
Creative financing, like most energy projects that use renewables, is
required. At the summit, financial experts spoke at length about tax
credits, green tags and other sources of financing tribes might utilize.
When and if funding is available, an $800 million bond initiative set aside
strictly for tribes will put them on an equal playing field with other
The primary beneficiaries of the solar-generated energy will be the
southern California residents. For years they have enjoyed low-rate power
at the expense of the Navajos. The type of solar generation that will be
used is cost-effective and will provide power at competitive prices.
Putting clean power on the transmission grid will reduce the amount of
carbon emissions generated by Mohave. It is estimated that for every
kilowatt hour produced by coal-burning facilities, the carbon emissions are
2,600 tons per year.
What the Colorado Plateau project will do for the Navajo and Hopi is reduce
the need for water in generation of power; replace tribal royalties and
reduce dependency on Peabody; it will employ more Hopi people that Peabody
does now and it will not require destruction of the land.
The recently passed and signed energy bill has a number of provisions that
are incentives for tribes to enter the renewables market, but since the
budget bill has not yet passed there is no appropriations for these
measures, as of yet.
The importance of energy from renewables has been discussed in Indian
country for many years, thus the need for this summit. Another summit will
be held within six to eight months.
This first summit was organized by DCI America, an organization that is
involved with renewables training projects for tribes. The Intertribal
Council on Utility Policy, Foresight Energy, Honor the Earth, Indigenous
Environmental Network, International Council on Local Environmental
Initiatives, Native Energy LLC, Native Wind Powering America and NRG
Systems sponsored the first summit.
For more information visit www.dciamerica.com.