Tribal Energy

The Time Is Now For Tribal Clean Energy

Indian country should be taking the Fed’s renewable energy policies to the bank. In January of 2011, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced unyielding support for tribes in their efforts to use alternative energies to “improv[e] the environment and support[] longterm clean energy jobs.” Part of Secretary Chu’s plan included making millions of dollars available for renewable energy projects on tribal lands. Other federal economic has incentives abound, including: renewable energy tax credits, federal grants, clean energy renewable bonds, production tax credits, residential energy efficiency tax credits, green schools programs, and energy efficient appliance rebate programs – just to name a few.

These incentives are not limited to the Fed either. States are passing renewable energy portfolio standards – laws that require utility companies to purchase a mandated amount of their energy from renewable sources – with fervor. States do not have the capacity to meet these targets on their own.

The general economic climate also remains favorable. In FY2010, clean energy investments grew by 30 percent, to $243 billion. An estimated $1 trillion in revenue is possible were Indian country to fully develop its energy resources.

Yet, as of February 2011, only one commercial scale renewable energy project is operating in Indian country. What gives?

As often is the case in Indian country, unfavorable and burdensome federal regulations that do not take account of the Indian perspective are the culprit. Put simply, the only policies that work are those developed by Indians, for Indians, with the least amount of federal intervention as possible. Earlier this week, the New York Times offered a similar conclusion:

The Rosebud Sioux are proud of the Owl Feather War Bonnet Wind Farm, a 30-megawatt project that sits on the rolling hills that the tribe has called home for centuries.

The South Dakota farm represents the tribe's opportunity to escape a high unemployment rate by tapping into the country's renewable energy needs. But a slew of obstacles has stalled the shovel-ready project, beginning with the 18 months it took the Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve the leasing agreement back in 2008. . . .

Today, the Obama administration is hoping to eliminate such bureaucratic impediments through better consultations with tribes on domestic policies. . . .

The results of such discussions – particularly when it comes to energy policy – are unclear. The Owl Feather War Bonnet farm still sits unused, despite the presence of an Air Force base nearby that the tribe had hoped would buy its energy.

The federal goals of a “clean energy economy” cannot be met without cooperation from Indian country. However, without meaningful consultation, minimized federal red-tape, and a genuine government-to-government relationship, the Feds’ renewable energy policies will never come to fruition. Having identified what hinders alternative energy development, it is now time for Congress to write necessary legislation to allow tribes to pursue true energy self-determination.

Ryan Dreveskracht is an Associate at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian majority-owned law firm. His practice focuses on representing businesses and tribal governments in public affairs, energy, gaming, taxation, and general economic development. He can be reached at 206.909.3842 or