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Inside the DOE’s Tribal Energy Program Stampa E-mail

Interview with Lizana Pierce, Project Manager – DOE’s Tribal Energy Program

A 65 kW wind turbine being erected on the Pine Ridge Reservation just south of Radio Station KILI. The “Voice of the Lakota Nation” is now powered by the Power of the Four Winds

Is there any data on energy needs and consumptions per capita – for example – inside an Alaska village? Can they be compared with that of an American citizen, living in a big town such as Anchorage?
Based on the Energy Information Administration (EIA) report, entitled Energy Consumption and Renewable Energy Development Potential on Indian Lands, dated 1990, “the average Indian household consumed about 143 million Btu of primary energy (including electricity losses), 28 million less than the average across all U.S. households, geographically adjusted. This difference across major energy sources is of marginal statistical significance. However, the average Indian household supplied with electricity clearly uses less than the average U.S. household. On average, Indian households use only about 75 percent of the electricity used by U.S. households in general, a statistically significant difference”.
Based on that EIA report: Indian households on reservations are disproportionately without electricity. The analysis determined that 14.2 percent of Indian households on reservations had no access to electricity, as compared to only 1.4 percent of all U.S. households.
According to EIA’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), electricity prices paid by Indian households in 1997 (8.7 cents per kWh) were not statistically different from prices paid by U.S. households as a whole (8.1 cents per kilowatt hour). However, Indians living on Indian lands generally pay a greater portion of their income for electricity.
The Indian lands with the greatest need for electrification are generally in Arizona. On the Navajo Reservation, almost 37 percent of all households do not have access to electricity. Moreover, the Navajo Reservation accounts for 75 percent of all Indian households on tribal lands not having electricity. Other Arizona reservations with high rates of non-electric households include: Hopi Reservation (29 percent), Salt River Reservation (12 percent), and Fort Apache Reservation (9 percent). In the Dakotas, the Standing Rock Reservation also has a very high rate of households without electricity, 18 percent.

Is there any data on energy needs and consumptions per capita – for example – inside an Alaska village? Can they be compared with that of an American citizen, living in a big town such as Anchorage?

The report can be found on the Tribal Energy Program website at

For Alaska, the situation is more pronounced. Many rural Native villages face the special challenge of paying high retail fuel prices to meet basic survival needs. Heating oil and diesel fuel is expensive, and the situation becomes even more burdensome for rural communities with the increased costs for transportation and storage. Based on a report, Fuel Prices Across Alaska, dated June 2008, heating fuel range from an average of 1.72 dollars per gallon on the North Slope to 5.65 dollars per gallon in Western Alaska with the Kokhanok Tribal Council in Kokhanok (South Coastal Region) reporting the highest heating fuel retail price of 9.10 dollars per gallon. Unleaded gasoline prices range from an average of 4.71 dollars on the North Slope to 5.68 dollars in the Interior.

For more, see Fuel Prices Across Alaska, dated June 2008 (pdf, 807 kb)

For those Alaska Native communities and many other tribes struggling in the current economy, renewable energy offers the hope of reliable power and efficiency a means of reducing the economic burden of heat and electricity.

The Program indicates that the challenge is less about technology, and more about information-sharing, training and human capacity building. Which were the first reactions of the Native American’s when you introduced the Program for the first time?
Before defining the Program, we held a strategy session with Tribal leaders, Tribal representatives and other advocates to obtain input and feedback on their needs and how the Program could help meets these needs. A couple of key points resulted from that meeting.
One being the need for a clearinghouse of information - which evolved into our web-based Guide for Tribal Energy Development. The other that the Tribes needed town their resource data. As a result, we offered financial assistance in the form of grants directly to the 562 Tribes, such that they could quantify their renewable energy resources and then decide whether they wished to pursue development of those resources.
Further, in 1999 the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT), an inter-tribal organization formed for Tribes by Tribes, along with Tribal leaders developed a vision. That vision was that “by the year 2010 each Sovereign Indian Tribe will have a sufficient and reliable supply of electricity at reasonable costs to support its social and economic well-being” .
These factors, combined with the U.S. Department of Energy’s American Indian and Alaska Native Tribal Government Policy which is based on the trust responsibility of the United States to protect sovereignty and self-determination, tribal lands, assets, resources, and treaty and other federally recognized and reserved rights, the program developed a mission and goal.
That mission being to implement the Program on behalf of the Tribes and promote tribal energy sufficiency, economic development, and employment through the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.
From the start, the interest in the Program was tremendous, and has been growing ever since. On reason is ours is one of a few Programs specifically for Tribes wishing to explore renewable energy. Also, I believe that through our outreach and training activities, we have expanded that interested by reaching out to as many Tribes as possible. Even as a relative small Program with a budget averaging 5 million dollars per year, since 2002 we have been able to provide funds for 93 tribal energy projects.

Do you have data on the results of your efforts in terms of new occupations in the energy arena, after the training or the education offered by the Program?
Creating local jobs is a priority for many Tribes, so building that human capacity and skills is essential. Indian Country like many areas in the U.S. is looking towards green jobs as a means of reducing unemployment. One resource for Native Americans is Native Workplace, a Native operated organization focused on helping the Native community learn about Green careers.

For more,

Over the years, we have conducted and sponsored many training opportunities for Tribal leaders and Tribal members. Our goal is to build human capacity and knowledge, but not necessarily focused on skills or career development. There are many organizations, such as the Tribal College and Universities (see American Indian Higher Education Consortium) who will be instrumental in creating a workforce for renewable energy development in Indian Country.
As more and more tribal energy projects come to fruition and the need for local labor increases, our hope is that Native American’s will be in a position to meet this need and in some way that we contributed.

Does there exist an innate concept of sustainable development, efficiency, renewable energy in the culture of the Native American Tribes?
I have heard it said that conservation, efficiency and renewable energy are consistent with the Native American culture of living in harmony of Mother Earth, yet it is not my place to speak for the Tribes. Each Tribe needs to decide for themselves, what is right for them and their people, whether it is consistent with their culture and beliefs, and how best to use their resources.
Hopefully, by providing resources and information the Program can empower Tribal leaders to make informed decisions about their energy choices.

Do you think that the results the Tribal Energy Program can be “exported” in other regions of the world (for examples, Brazil, Australia or African countries) that still have tribes living in remote villages inside the national territories? The Tribal Energy Program, as defined, is specific to Federally-recognized Tribes in the U.S. Yet, the concepts can be “exported” and used as appropriate to each unique situation. Through its international program, the U.S. Department of Energy has been supporting renewable energy for indigenous people throughout the world, such as the Village Electrification Program and past international activities through the DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

For more on DOE's International Programs, see

How can this Program make a difference in the quality of life of Native Americans?
I believe that information and awareness can in fact change how each of us use energy. Knowledge can expand the possibilities of using energy more wisely through conservation or using indigenous renewable resources for local economic development.
Through web-base resources, training, technical assistance, and creating a forum for Tribes to share information and experiences, the Program has tried to provide information and build human capacity so Tribes can make decisions about their energy choices.
Further, we’ve provide funds and assistance for Tribes to quantify their renewable energy resources, so they can decide whether to develop, or not. As a result, of our efforts and those of the Tribes and many others, the number of un-electrified homes has decreased; projects are in development that will create revenue for the Tribes and create job opportunities; and provide a local source of energy.
Yet, for these Tribal energy projects to be sustainable both human capacity and infrastructure must be built - infrastructure in the form of policies and organizations, as well as physical infrastructure such a feedstock supply chains and transmission.

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians has installed an eight-kilowatt PV system atop the Indian Canyon Trading Post. The Diesel generator the tribe had been using is now used only in emergency situations

Tribal lands have the potential to meet more than 14 percent of America’s energy needs with wind power, and by using solar resources, could meet all of America’s energy needs. This could even hide some risks for the Native American. How to protect them from a new form of energy colonization?
Based on some analysis done by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the wind potential on Tribal lands was estimated at about 14% of the 2004 U.S. annual electric generation (~3,853 Billion kWh/year) and the solar potential on Tribal lands about 4.5 times the total U.S. electrical generation in 2004.
Further, Native American lands in the U.S. account for 5% of the land base with 10% of all energy resources – both conventional and renewable. Our hope is that Tribes will be at the forefront of developing their own resources, both to meet local needs, and for export, if they choose. One possible way to reduce or prevent energy colonization would be for Tribes to be actively involved in the decision process and own energy development on their lands.

Which are the biggest difficulties you met in the first years of life of the Tribal Energy Program?
One of the biggest challenges was and still is appreciating the diversity of Indian Country. As has been said, if you’ve met one Tribe... you’ve met one Tribe.
There are now 564 Federal-recognized Tribes and Alaska villages. Each face huge challenges and opportunities, live in extremely diverse environments, have a unique histories, varying cultures and beliefs, and are each unique as a people. I listen and learn something everyday and try in a small part to try to make a difference.

And the biggest satisfactions?
One of the greatest satisfactions I have of being involved in the Program for the last 10 years is the sense of touching people. We receive many, varied inquiries daily and strive to answer each in a timely manner. We also send out information on funding, training opportunities, and other tribal energy related information through our to our extensive mass email list - which reaches over 3,000 people directly and countless more as federal agencies, Tribes and industry re-distribute the information.
We know we’re touching people based on the daily feedback and words of appreciation. It is so inspiring that people take the time to recognize those efforts and offer a word of thanks.
We also have sponsored a summer intern program for Native American students over the years. Based on feedback from those students, we’ve touch each one of those young people – in some cases altered the way they see energy, broadened their experiences, and in some cases altered their career paths and made advocates for renewable energy. You can’t help but be gratified that what you do can have such a positive impact on people.

TEP team "We know we’re touching people based on the daily feedback and words of appreciation.
It is so inspiring that people take the time to recognize those efforts and offer
a word of thanks"

In your experience, can you identify some areas of the country or some tribes which were more interested in the message of the Program?

With the changing economic climate, media and focus on climate change, awareness and interest in energy issues has increased over the years. But most notable may be in Alaska where climate change is evident, fuel is barged or flown to remote villages, winters harsh, and fuel prices high.
In areas like Alaska which face high energy prices or places which have no access to electricity like on the Navajo Nation, the need is great and interest high. Also, Tribes in areas with abundant renewable energy resources have shown interest, like the Tribes in the Great Plains who are blessed with tremendous wind resources, and see these resources as a potential means of revenue.
I believe, like anyone, Tribes are concerned about providing for their families and a future for their children, and their children’s children. Many Tribes face growing populations, high unemployment, and the need for economic development and many are looking towards local renewable energy resources - both as a means for self-sufficiency and jobs.

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