The Department of Energy (DOE) has distributed $36 million over 160 projects all over the country as part of its Tribal Energy Program. The program’s goal is to assist in the development of renewable energy projects on tribal lands.
One project that will benefit from the DOE’s program is in central New Mexico. The To’Hajilee solar project will receive a portion of $6.5 million earmarked for 19 projects in total in the West and bring clean energy to thousands of remote households in the region. Experts believe that through development, a “wealth of untapped potential” for renewable energy on tribal lands can be utilized.
So-called “Indian Country” has the solar energy potential to meet national energy demand four times over. Additionally, over 14 percent of energy demand could be met with wind farms on the tens of millions of acres held in tribal land trusts.
Energy development experts compare the potential for renewable energy on tribal lands to be the equivalent of the casino boom for native tribes in earlier decades. Renewable energy could be a key economic stimulant as well as a path to self-sufficiency, although there are many obstacles in getting solar, wind and other renewable projects off the ground. Tribes must overcome government regulations and investment challenges before tapping into the clean energy marketplace.
Another major issue is investor perception, says Doug MacCourt, an Oregon attorney that is part of an expert team advising tribal communities looking to break into the renewable energy marketplace.
“One of the real challenges is how you get the outside world to understand these are players just like anybody else in the business,” MacCourt told the Associated Press. “They’re bringing some very valuable assets to bear, especially in the western U.S. where most states have statutory mandates they have to meet for renewable portfolio standards.”