The bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act enabled new opportunities to develop wind and solar projects on tribal lands through the offer of $14 billion in subsidies and incentives. However, many Native American tribes struggle to access these clean energy incentives.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s SAGE Development Authority proposed a plan for the 235-megawatt (MW), 60-turbine Anpetu Wi Wind Farm on their reservation near the border of North and South Dakota three years ago. Some of the country’s most powerful winds blow through that region, making it an ideal location.
Launching the country’s first tribal-owned utility-scale wind farm would provide jobs, money and electricity to this impoverished region as it capitalizes on renewable resources. SAGE estimates the proposed wind farm would generate $210 million in revenue over 25 years from the sale of power to the regional grid, enabling the tribe to lower electric bills and reinvest revenue in distributed solar energy and microgrid projects.
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, tribal lands currently account for 6.5% of the nation’s renewable energy potential. Thus, these federal green energy subsidies would greatly benefit many tribes, who have collectively proposed large-scale projects with the potential of generating at least 4 gigawatts of electricity, according to Reuters.
Unfortunately, tribes such as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe must first secure an agreement to connect to their regional electric grid to benefit from the incentives. That is an expensive process requiring upfront capital, technical expertise, regulatory knowledge and time—time they often don’t have, since many of the incentives expire by 2024 and 2026.
In the hope of winning approval for their project, the Standing Rock Sioux have invested $3 million in technical studies and fees. Much of that money was raised from philanthropies such as the Sierra Club Foundation, Wallace Global Fund and the Bush Foundation through forgivable loans.
The tribe completed studies on the wind potential of its secured site and cultural and environmental impact studies, which are required as part of a connection agreement with the regional grid operator, the Southwest Power Pool.
Despite this progress, SAGE general manager Joseph McNeil Jr. said this project is in the middle of a queue of more than 400 other projects on the grid operator’s list.
Recognizing that tribes have faced challenges in accessing the DOE's loan energy programs, Jeremiah Baumann, chief of staff to the Under Secretary for Infrastructure at DOE, said, “Too many programs have been too hard to access.”
A May 2023 meeting of officials from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the DOE and the Department of the Interior, along with tribal energy leaders from around the country, discussed obstacles confronting tribes. During the meeting, acting FERC chairman Willie Phillips told the group that FERC was trying to address the backlog of projects. Although the commission enacted broad reforms in response, they did not address the critical issue of upfront capital.
Cheri Smith, president of the Alliance for Tribal Clean Energy, a nonprofit that is helping tribes develop clean energy, is asking FERC to reduce deposits and interconnection costs for tribes and to give priority to tribal projects.
About The Author
Lori Lovely is an award-winning writer and editor in central Indiana. She writes on technical topics, heavy equipment, automotive, motorsports, energy, water and wastewater, animals, real estate, home improvement, gardening and more. Reach her at: [email protected]